Picture This: 3D Digital Signage

Philips’ Multiview Lenticular technology brings easy-access 3D to LCD panels.
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Picture This: 3D Digital Signage

Jul 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

Philips’ Multiview Lenticular technology brings easy-access 3D to LCD panels.

I suppose everyone has a different reaction to 3D video. It's a novelty, of course, and I have to admit that I've never really been very taken by it. That may be for the simple reason that the silly one-eye-red, one-eye-blue glasses give me a headache. Newer polarized 3D glasses don't seem to cause the same physiological reaction, and that's helped me enjoy 3D more, particularly when it's done well. Still, wearing any sort of special glasses always seems a little silly, and that makes the novelty short-lived.

With Philips’ new Multiview Lenticular technology, an array of angled, transparent lenses is affixed to an otherwise standard LCD panel to allow viewers to experience 3D video from many angles—without silly glasses.

Novelty, however, is hardly a bad thing when it comes to advertising and being noticed, and I can certainly appreciate that as a one-time marketing professional. That makes Philips' expected introduction of 3D-capable LCD panels for digital signage an intriguing development in the world of 3D. Philips' new Multiview Lenticular technology will allow viewers to experience the 3D effect from a wide variety of viewing angles, all without the need for any of those silly glasses.

Demonstrated first at the Society of Information Displays show in Boston this past May, Philips' new 3D LCD panel was really just a technology announcement. As yet there is no model name, beyond just “42-inch 3D LCD,” nor has Philips set any shipping date or even formally announced any eventual product. Philips is, however, expecting to have sample units available for channel partners and OEMs as early as this fall in order to help gauge interest and demand.

A LONG HISTORY

That cautious approach would make sense with any new technology introduction, of course, but perhaps it's particularly appropriate for 3D. With all the fits and starts with 3D over the last 50 years or so, it's easy to be a little skeptical. We've all seen pictures from the 1950s of bobby-soxers sitting in a cinema with those red/blue color filter glasses and a box of popcorn. That was the golden era of passive viewing entertainment, and if 3D couldn't make it then, it arguably won't make it any time.

On the other hand, 3D has come a long way since then. One only need take a peek at any one of hundreds of Hollywood movies to see the advances. Titantic, Star Wars: Episode III, the Harry Potter films, and just about any action movie all showcase how far the craft of computer animation, including 3D modeling, has come. What's more, common applications like Autodesk 3ds Max, Alias Maya, and NewTek LightWave 3D have made creating 3D content a lot easier, thus broadening the user base far beyond the Hollywood elites.

Of course, movies are generally viewed in 2D cinemas or on 2D television sets, so laypeople rarely get to see that content on a true 3D display. That puts Philips' new 3D technology in a wide-open territory. It's ready to capture curious eyes with its pure novelty, but there's considerable marketing uncertainty over that novelty — how much demand might there might actually be for it?

MULTIVIEW 3D

Lenticular 3D has been around for a long time. I remember seeing the concept in action on 3D baseball cards in the 1970s. You often see examples of lenticular 3D in vendor carts at shopping malls and in novelty gift shops. In those cases it's fairly easy to recognize that the 3D effect is created simply by aligning 2D “layers” of a given scene. You experience the 3D effect by turning the card (or other 2D surface) back and forth slightly, thereby causing you to look through one of two different (plastic or glass) lens sheets.

The breakthrough with Philips' Multiview Lenticular approach is that it eliminates any specific viewing zones, thereby allowing multiple viewers to experience 3D content comfortably at almost any viewing angle. Complete freedom of movement through the viewing area without losing the 3D appearance is, of course, critical for effective 3D digital signage. Even more important for catching the public's eye, Multiview Lenticular is an auto-stereoscopic technology that does not rely on any special glasses.

Philips uses an array of angled, transparent lenses affixed to an otherwise standard LCD panel to create multiple depth layers. Unlike other 3D technologies that block colors to one eye or alternate shutters, Philips' technology approach creates 3D images with no sacrifice to the panel's brightness or contrast — also critical in typical environments for digital signage, with their high ambient light. All of that allows for both wide and bright 3D viewing, but also a panel that can easily switch between 3D and 2D content.

Of course, it's the content that will ultimately determine the success or failure of this or any other 3D technology. For effective digital signage, advertisers will need to be able to create compelling and novel content that leverages 3D to catch wandering eyeballs and create awareness. Advertisers might draw from existing 3D content, but more likely they'll need custom content created specifically for a digital signage application.

In either case, Philips realizes that eliminating barriers will be critical to the technology's success. In order to facilitate the conversion of existing 3D content and the development and use of custom content, Philips plans to include software that will do both. First, Philips is developing a software plug-in that will enable direct 3D viewing output from common applications like 3ds Max and Maya. The plug-in saves the Z-axis information from those applications, and so the LCD panel's processing engine will be able to render the 3D content in real time. The other piece of software is a utility that will be able to convert 2D content, including motion video clips, into 3D by extrapolating and re-rendering the depth of field. That function was not yet demonstrable at SID or this past month's InfoComm.

Without a product yet, Philips is certainly a long way from establishing pricing for this future 3D LCD panel. However, Philips concedes that it's reasonable to assume a price premium for including the 3D technology with a panel. The actual premium over the cost of a regular 42in. panel — whether it's 3X, 6X, or some other factor — will be a function of demand, economies of scale, and a yet-to-be-determined business and distribution model.

Still, digital signage and 3D are two technologies that have been gaining a fair amount of momentum lately. The combination of the two could be a perfect fit in a world where novelty matters.

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