Is 2D to 3D Good Enough?

Controversy continues to dominate discussions of 3DTV. Is it worth it? Are the glasses a deal-breaker? Do you lose too much brightness? Is autostereoscopic technology better than the technologies that require glasses, and is it practical? One fact that just about everyone can agree on, however, is that there just isn’t enough 3D content available to convince most people to get a 3DTV.

A recent article in TV Technology addresses this problem, focusing on the development of technology to convert standard 2D content into 3D versions. The fact is that there is a lot of depth cue information in a 2D image, and when you consider the differences between adjacent frames in a 2D moving image, you get tons more. According to some developers, this is enough to create stereoscopic images from a 2D source.

Even better, the process can be automated to a large degree, only requiring human input to tweak portions of the images in places. Not only that, but the article quotes one source who argues that 2D conversion can lead to a better result than shooting with stereoscopic cameras in the first place. Manual conversion of some 3D feature films can cost $50,000 to $100,000 per minute according to the article. An automated system may be able to convert an entire 45-minute 2D television episode for $25,000, or perhaps as little as $10,000 in volume. And many 3DTV sets are getting 2D-to-3D conversion features built right into their controllers.

Frankly, this is happening a bit faster than I had anticipated. I was expecting automated conversion to be good enough to get some traction by 2012, so that we’d have enough content to compell consumers to buy starting in 2013. Now it looks as though we may see a volume of converted content by as early as next year, which I believe will accelerate the sales of 3DTVs. (Whether or not this will be soon enough to preserve the price premium for 3D support remains to be seen.) I suspect that the slow sales of 3DTVs has something to do with the pressure for more automated conversions, as the set makers need more content in order to move their product. So expect to see more content populating the schedule of the various 3DTV channels that are cropping up. Maybe next year will be the right time to take the plunge with 3D in your living room.