Educating in the third dimension

December 18, 2011

One again, it’s been a while since I posted.  Please accept my humble apologies.  To make it up to you all, here are two articles in one:

Terry Freedman from ICT in Education.org asked me to write an article for their  Computers in Classrooms newsletter.  It’s a special 3D edition.

Here’s a direct link to my article although the rest of the magazine is worth viewing too.

In the article, I talk about the Panasonic T750 Camcorder:

Panasonic T750 3D camcorder

The camcorder comes with a 3D lens attachment, so you can use it as a regular 2D camera as well.  Surprisingly, Five’s Gadget Show didn’t think much of this model (preferring the Sony camcorder) on TV at least.  The online review seems a little more accomodating.  Which I think overlooked some key points:

  • As a 2D video camera, the quality is excellent.  It has 3 CMOS sensors and can record in 1080p which makes chromakeying (i.e. greenscreen) very easy.  I’ve always been a fan of Panasonic cameras, they seem to understand what’s actually important.  It’s a slight shame the camera doesn’t have a SD mode.   As a school, we have no need of HD quality, where filesize is as important as quality.  Don’t get me wrong, we don’t sacrifice quality, it’s just that I’m not in the business of delivering broadcast-quality content.
  • Panasonic (unlike Sony) use an open-source recording codec.   This allows editing in Adobe Premiere Pro without having to convert the video beforehand.  This is a huge time- and quality-saver.

We picked up the camcorder for around £500 + VAT (you have to shop around and we have an excellent finance department who do just that).   For that price, we got two cameras in one.

The recordings are side-by-side, which makes incorporating the video into my existing Cinema4D’s workflow really straightforward.  What is most suprising is just how effective the depth of the video is.  We mounted the camera on the front of a boat which passed under the Tyne’s Milennium footbridge.

It’s not a view most people get to see and it really impressed our staff and students.

If you have the free time and the budget, you can buy 3D software like Cinema4D and start making animations for yourself.  And of course, there are now dozens of S3D-content suppliers (if their content works with your system) and if you have the free time and the budget, you can wade through these resources to find the occasional gems.  But if you buy a 3D camcorder, you can immediately start creating content for yourself.   (Or hand the camera over to your students to see what they can do.)

And of course, self-created content is free!

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The Different types of 3D

March 20, 2011

3D , (or if you read my last post S3D) comes in many different forms.  Not wanting to bore you (too late!), but here’s a brief explanation of the many, many different types:

Red/Green AnaglyphRed/Green cardboard glasses, very cheap to make

This is the traditional 50s ‘B’ movie 3D with the cardboard glasses.   It made a reappearance in the 80’s in films like Jaws 3D, but it died.   Why?  Because it’s useless, between people with poor eyesight and people who suffer from colour-blindness, nearly 50% of the population experienced no effect from looking at a red/green film while wearing red/green glasses. 

Colour Code or blue/orangeChuck: "Chuck vs the third dimension"

This is the 21st Century version of red/green.  Basically some bright spark noted that with the right shade of blue and the right shade of orange, the mixed image appears almost normal.  So anyone watching the video without glasses is still able to enjoy it.  And most people don’t have blue/orange colour-blindness.     A few years ago an episode of Chuck was filmed using color-code.  Still doesn’t really work though.

Now we move onto the proper stuff:

Passive LinearPassive Linear glasses

This setup involves two projectors each with a polarising  filter on them.  One only shows light in a vertical plane, the other only shows light in a horizontal plane.  Everyone wears glasses with matching filters and the projectors need a very expensive, very flat, silver screen to reflect the light in those polarisations.   The glasses are cheap-ish (£2 each) and the effect works, even sometimes for me!  The room has to be dark to work properly too.

We have a passive system in school, from a company called Inition.  It’s great and really very easy to use.  Although Passive Linear cannot be used directly with all the new blu-ray 3D stuff.  grrrr!

Passive Circular

Same thing as linear, but slightly more expensive as the filters use circular polarisation.   The big difference is that users can twist their heads and the effect still works.

Dolby Color Code 3D

A truly cool system (because it works for me, obviously)  It’s a variation on the Colour Code blue/orange system but it is refined and uses glass lenses.  The result is that for a viewer not wearing glasses, the picture is perfectly normal, but when you were the heavy and quite expensive (about £40 each).  You only need one projector and a regular screen.

Imax Digital 3D

Supposedly Imax is similar to Dolby, but the effect was completely lost on me.   A number of forum posts on the internet suggest I’m not the only one left out in the cold by this system.  The glasses are much cheaper too, which is why so many cinemas have opted for this system. 😦

Active Shutter

The daddy.  Quite frankly.  Unless of course you suffer from headaches or eyestrain.  A Infra-Red signal from a 3D-ready projector or TV switches on/off tiny LCD screens in the glasses.  Flickering 120 times per second, the human eye doesn’t register the flickering but instead only sees one view.   Clever, but heavy and expensive (£80 per pair of glasses).  I’ve seen this work with a lot of light in the room and a very poor quality screen.

Nintendo 3DS

3D that doesn’t come out at you.  It’s billed as glasses-less 3D, because the view shown is worked out for the screen by the console tracking your eyes.  If you were looking into a room through a window, you would see different parts of the room depending where you stood.  Nintendo’s head tracking works in the same way.  Very cool.   Some TVs are offering glasses-less 3D and it’s presumed it will work in the same manner.

So there you are, a quick bluffers guide to 3D (or S3D, I really must start using this term). What does all this mean though?

Well realistically if you want 3D in your school the only two options are passive or active shutter.

Active Shutter is cheaper to get and portable. But the maintenance costs of replacing the glasses puts a lot of people off. Oh and works with 3D blu-ray.

Passive is expensive to get and has to be in a fixed position in a controlled environment, but it is really cheap to look after.

Of course once you get 3D, you need some content.  But that’s another story, or post at least.


3D or not 3D

March 13, 2011

Sorry folks, I’ve not posted in a quite a time.   It’s been hectic, plus I’ve been experiementing with a lot of resources that haven’t fully proven themselves.

I have spent some time recently looking into 3D and 3D resources.   Before I go any further though I need to clarify something.  3D is a gimmick.   It causes too many eye-fatigue problems for too many people to be used for anything other than “wow factor” events and theme parks.  Estimates for people who have problems with 3D video range from 12% to 30% of the population!  That’s people who get headaches, people who can’t see 3D and people who can’t see specific types of 3D. 

Personally, I can only see what I call gross 3D, that is the real in-your-face stuff, the stuff that shoots our of the screen.  My eye condition means all the subtle stuff involving depth behind the screen totally passes me by.  So you see, along with 30% of your class, I have a vested interested in making sure 3D is used right.

Over the next view posts I’m going to break down 3D into it’s different elements (I could have used “dimensions” I suppose) and the first one is that calling it 3D leads to confusion.  How?  Because computers which create environments in which objects exists are already making things in 3D.  Jurassic Park, Toy Story along with every movie since used computers to create a 3D world, but they showed it only in 2D.  

What you put glasses on, you’re actually looking at Stereoscopic 3D or s3D.   That’s where two different views appear on the same screen and the glasses ensure you only see one view per eye.

Next up, I’ll explain the differences between and benefits of Passive Linear, Passive Circular, Active Shutter, Dolby Digital and Imax s3D display systems.