October 8, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Dolby stakes its claim in 3D movie tech

Dolby stakes its claim in 3D movie tech
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Corrections were made to this story. Read below for details.

SAN FRANCISCO--When Paramount Pictures' 3D movie Beowulf debuts on November 16, the battle between an Anglo-Saxon hero and various monsters won't be the only one moviegoers will witness.

The Robert Zemeckis film also will be first major time that Real D, one of the companies that made the current renaissance of 3D movies possible, directly faces a newer challenger, Dolby 3D from Dolby Laboratories.

Beowulf will show using Real D's technology on 1,000 screens nationwide, Chief Executive Michael Lewis said. Dolby isn't saying yet how many will use Dolby 3D, but it's racing to install its technology as widely as possible, limited chiefly by the rate that partners manufacture its 3D glasses.

"Real D is leading the pack, since they have the widest distribution, but everyone is watching with anticipation," said Aaron Parry, chief executive of production company Main Street Pictures, which Paramount hired to evaluate the current state of stereoscopic filmmaking.

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Ultimately, the race to spread 3D movie technology could hasten the day that many in the industry see as inevitable, when 3D movies escape their history as off-the-wall spectacle and become the norm. In this view, the shift to 3D is just another overhaul of the entertainment business, just like the arrival of sound and color in the last century.

"I think in 10 years you can say entertainment will feel like you're there. It will completely blur the line between the experience you took physically and the experience you took visually," said Vince Pace, whose company, Pace co-developed with James Cameron the Fusion 3D camera being used in that director's 2009 movie, Avatar.

It's no secret why the industry would be eager for a cinematic revolution. Big flat-panel displays and surround sound made home theater compelling at the same time the studios were financially stagnant. 3D versions of movies such as Chicken Little have generated more revenue than their 2D equivalents financially, and the industry expects more of the same.

"We believe that 3D has the potential to meaningfully boost growth, by allowing theaters to offer a new visual experience that we believe will drive incremental attendance and price hikes," JPMorgan analyst Barton Crockett said in a September report.

He estimated 3D movies will draw 10 percent more viewers than 2D equivalents, and each person willing to pay about $3.50 more per ticket in 2009. That means $300 million to $400 million in additional earnings for theater companies--about a fifth of the total box-office take by 2011. The number of 3D-equipped screens should jump to 7,000 by 2010, he predicted.

Most expect home theater to lag 3D in movie theaters. Even when it catches up, "The biggest problem is that 3D on a small screen is not satisfying in same way as in big screen. It is what you call an immersive experience," said Dave Schnuelle, Dolby's senior director for image technology.

Antipiracy is a side benefit. Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has observed, "Ninety percent of all piracy comes from a camcorder aimed at the screen. You can't camcorder 3D movies."

However, building a 3D future is difficult.

Inside the technology
Real D and Dolby rely on the same basic idea to give an audience the illusion of depth: show images that differ slightly in vantage point to each of a viewer's eyes. The viewer's brain will reconstruct the third dimension, just as it does in the real world.

Both companies require glasses to ensure each eye gets only the correct view; Real D uses circular polarization while Dolby uses a color-filtering technology licensed from Infitec. The light is separated into the left-eye and right-eye views at the projector, switching back and forth 144 times per second.

With the new method, "there's no eye fatigue like in the 1950s and 1970s," said Tim Partridge, Dolby's head of products and technology.

In Dolby 3D, a spinning CD-size wheel between the lamp and the digital projector alternately lets through one set of light frequencies or another--two slightly different versions of the red, green and blue primary colors for each eye. The wheel spins six times for each movie frame, with the digital projector synchronized to show the appropriate eye's image.

In contrast, Real D uses an electronic filter called a Z-screen that circularly polarizes the light two different ways after it leaves the projector, also switching back and forth six times per frame to avoid flicker. Circular polarization--a complicated transformation of light's electromagnetic properties--requires the use of a special silver screen that retains the polarization as the light reflects back toward the audience.

Another company in Korea, Masterimage, also is trying to get into the market with an approach that uses a spinning wheel in front of the projector to apply the circular polarization.

 

Corrections: This story misidentified the studio for which Main Street Pictures Chief Executive Aaron Parry conducted a study of 3D moviemaking. Paramount Pictures hired him.

This story also misspelled the name of Infitec, the company from which Dolby licensed filtering technology.

CONTINUED: Ups and downs…
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12 comments

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$3.50 More per ticket?!
The people in Hollywood must be smoking some very potent stuff these days. The public is screaming about ticket prices and concession prices already. That could be a contributing part of the problem of low ticket sales. Another part may be the junk that comes out of Hollywood these days. So how do you combat that? How do you get people coming out to the theater again?

Produce the same junk but in 3D and charge people $3.50 more! What a great idea! Let's repackage the junk we've been force-feeding the public and charge them more for the privilege of being abused! Wow. Genius. Morons.

How about stop paying those self-important actors 20 million per picture for a few weeks work and pass the savings onto the public? There's a concept. Fiscal responsibility. Drop ticket prices by $3.50 for 2d movies and keep the same rate as now for 3d movies. I bet there would be a lot more people going to movies and buying more concessions but don't get me started on $6 for a soda!
Posted by DatabaseDoctor (858 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What's really amazing...
...is that, despite the constant increases in per-ticket cost, the year-over-year revenue continues to drop! The number of actual tickets sold must be absolutely abysmal these days. Good thing they never report that figure -- they always just report the income of the films, a meaningless measure considering the ever-changing prices per ticket.

It's easy to see that Hollywood has no concept of economics. They think companies can just raise prices whenever they want (e.g. oil companies) without any consideration for supply and demand and that raising taxes actually increases government revenue when, in fact, the opposite is true!
Posted by Neo Con (428 comments )
Link Flag
3.50!!!!!!!!
No way i will pay 3.50 more..and that is for now, that's mena that so soon as we cant expect they will high and hight the price with dumbs excuses. No sir, i can pass it and keep watching movies in my home or regular dolby digital sourround sound theaters.
Posted by lizardo_manson (17 comments )
Link Flag
What if you're blind in one eye?
I don't mind making 3D movies but if this becomes the norm and a regular version isn't available, my movie watching days are over. I can't see in 3D if each eye needs to see a different image.
Posted by ballssalty (219 comments )
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No problem for you
With either Dolby 3D or Real D, you should be able to watch just the left-eye or right-eye channel and it'll be fine, though of course it'll be only in 2D and you'll still need the glasses.
Posted by Shankland (1858 comments )
Link Flag
sue?
Of course you coudl sue, like they did against Target because their website did not accomodate the blind. Now the one-eyed can sue as well.
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Link Flag
It will works for you too it's just not 3D
The current glasses technologies block the right and left eye respectively.If you can only see out of one eye you will see the image normally out of your working eye. The down side of this all is then the added cost of having to see a movie and wear glasses at the same time. This is definitely a bummer.
Posted by 3DCC (1 comment )
Link Flag
The Past
If the past is any indication, then it will all be about marketing
and the licensing of inferior technology. Dolby Labs is truly the
Microsoft of the media technology world.
Posted by DemiHampster (29 comments )
Reply Link Flag
3D movies and Buggy Whips!
Itseems the movie houses are the same mind set that buggy whip manufactures had when the public started buying more cars than buggys.

Why spend $15 or $20 to see a novelty movie that wouldn't make a B movie rating?
Posted by wtortorici (102 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It worked for me...
Its been a while that I have been to theaters. The idea of watching
the full movie in 3D was driving factor for me go out and watch
"Beowulf" otherwise I would have just usually waited for it to come
out in DVD and rent it. The big TV's and good home theater sounds
is their main competition. Full movie 3D is their advantage right
now and I am willing to shell out that money for a different
experience. At least until 3D becomes a norm for home movies
then Im back on my coach, PJ's and microwave popcorn.
Posted by fr33_loader (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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