Interesting times for Amazon. Especially in the hardware space. First we get the surprise launch of their new set-top box, the Fire TV, now rumours are spreading of an imminent smartphone from the retail giant.
Not that this rumour is new, per se. We’ve been hearing speculation about an Amazon phone almost as long as we’ve been hearing about an HDTV from Apple. But this time, the rumour comes with a new level of specificity at least as it relates to a key tech spec: the handset will supposedly ship with a quad set of cameras that will enable a retina-tracking, glasses-free, 3D display.
Let’s assume for the time being that this phone, if real, will be a logical stable-mate to the existing Kindle Fire line of tablets. This would mean Amazon’s proprietary fork of Android and access to all of Amazon’s streaming services. Certainly not a bad set of specs. Especially if they include access to the Fire TV’s game store.
Frankly, if this was all there was to this rumoured handset, the right price would make it a very popular choice. Amazon’s tablets have received very favourable reviews and it seems likely that an Amazon phone would fare equally well.
But I’m troubled by the 3D aspect of the report. I know that movie studios continue to flog 3D on all of their mega-budget releases as a way of luring audiences to theatrical releases (with the correspondingly over-priced tickets). Some people even choose 3D over 2D when given the choice. Not me. I’m completely over 3D. Most of the time my brain becomes so accustomed to the effect that 20 minutes into the movie the only thing I’m noticing is the glasses on my face and the darker picture on the screen (non-3D movies are noticeably brighter).
As for home 3D? Fugedaboudit.
Even if we owned a 3D TV I doubt we’d ever use the 3D part. My neighbour, who is as big a movie buff as you’re likely to find, never uses his TV’s 3D capability. I suspect he’s far from an outlier on that count.
Which brings us back to why Amazon would choose to include 3D on a handset, especially when others have tried (and failed) to market one successfully.
The most obvious reason is that they want to enable traditional 3D content, i.e. movies and games. Nintendo has enjoyed relative success with their 3DS line of hand-held game consoles and those who have them assure me that the 3D part is really enjoyable (I’ll have to take their word for it).
But there may be a secondary element to Amazon’s 3D strategy: retail. Though I’ve never felt that the current model of multiple-angle images in gallery format was insufficient when looking at products online, perhaps Amazon wants to take the virtual shopping experience to the next level by giving shoppers a more immersive and realistic view of catalog items.
Could such an evolution in the display of retail objects (or indeed any objects) be a game-changer? My instinct is to say “no” purely based on my lacklustre experiences with 3D in other contexts. But I underestimated how profoundly popular having an “iPod Touch on steroids” would be when the iPad was first released, so I’m willing to concede that the experience of 3D shopping might be one of those things you need to see, before rendering judgment.
What are your thoughts on a 3D phone from Amazon?
New Kickstarter project brings the price of 3D printing down-to-earth for the first time ever.
I’ve been a little (OK a lot) fascinated with consumer-grade 3D printing ever since I saw my first MakerBot device in the flesh at the Consumer Electronics Show back in 2010.
The MakerBot booth was surrounded by onlookers on a nearly constant basis and not because the company had employed scantily –clad women to attract the milling masses. They didn’t need to. They had something way better than a booth babe: a new technology that let people create virtually any 3D object from scratch. Show attendees huddled around small wooden boxes that looked like they’d been made from spare TinkerToy parts, while a robotic mechanism jumped and jerked around, slowly producing a 3D object, layer by layer. It was mesmerizing.
Back then, three things were true of consumer 3D printing. 1) It was expensive. Even MakerBot’s original Thing-o-Matic (the device that kickstarted the 3D craze even before Kickstarter had its first hit project) had a starting price of well over $1,000 and it was the least expensive model on the planet. 2) The examples of what you could make were limited to what you could download from a 3D library or design yourself using 3D software. And 3) it wasn’t exactly consumer-friendly. Calibration was regularly required and the software was not the easiest to master.
I was recently pitched a story idea by a PR agency on why people should buy a new big-screen TV for the Big Game – the SuperBowl of course. But unless you’re still watching an old tube-TV that can’t manage HD of any description, your existing HDTV will be just fine for the most-televised sporting event of the year. That’s because – much to my surprise – the event is not being covered in 3D. If someone knows why, please leave a comment below.
But the same might not be true of another big event that will be gracing our screens later this year: The Royal Wedding of William and Kate, which if the persistent rumours are true, will be broadcast in 3D.
I know – I can already hear some of you groaning – but a 3D broadcast of the wedding makes a lot of sense. Royal watchers, of which there are plenty here in Canada, go to great lengths to be near the monarchy at these occasions and I know of at least one fan who already has her tickets booked to be there in person. But the majority of people will have to attend virtually. As the National Post has already pointed out, it would be very cool to see a location like Westminster Abbey in 3D.
Apart from giving monarchists the illicit thrill of “being there”, a 3D wedding broadcast could also help a fledgling industry gather valuable data in the form of viewer feedback on the pros and cons of this type of coverage. With 3D being so new to so many TV stations, there is plenty left to learn. James Cameron is adamant that the only 3D movies worth watching are the ones that were conceived of and executed specifically for the 3D format – anything less doesn’t measure up. If it’s true for movies, it’s probably true for TV too.
The Royal Wedding could also be a huge boon to television manufacturers. A lack of decent 3D content has long been cited as one the primary reasons why consumers have been slow to adopt 3D at home – though frankly I think there are many other factors at play. But if that is what has kept people from jumping on the bandwagon, I can’t think of many televised events – with the exception of the usual sports biggies (World Cup Soccer, SuperBowl and the Olympics) – that would beat a Royal Wedding for driving people into their local electronics retailer.
Interestingly, if the wedding does go all Avatar on us, there’s the possibility it will be shown in 3D-capable movie theatres for those who don’t own 3D TVs. With a projected audience of over a billion viewers, TV makers won’t be the only ones profiting from this event.
What do you think readers? Is a 3D broadcast of the wedding a good idea? If you don’t own a 3D TV, would this be a good enough reason to buy one? Let us know.
Update Feb 18: According to RoyalWeddingBlog.ca, the young couple have formally rejected the idea of 3D coverage for their wedding citing concerns about how much technology would need to be present at the event to make it happen.
This is the kind of week it’s been in the world of TV and video, with stories not necessarily in chronological order…
First up: The 3D debate got hotter and well, weirder, when Roger Ebert – who has maligned the technology openly in the past – declared the format “inferior and inherently brain-confusing.” To prop up his thesis, he quotes liberally from fellow 3D-denier and award-winning editor, Walter Murch – whose work you are familiar with if you’ve ever watched Apocalypse Now, Ghost or The English Patient.
Now there’s no question that Murch’s credentials as far as the art form of cinematic editing is beyond reproach. But in a recent letter to Ebert, he goes way beyond a critique of 3D from the perspective of editing, citing biological arguments against the format such as:
[…] the “CPU” of our perceptual brain has to work extra hard, which is why after 20 minutes or so many people get headaches. They are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for.
He’s referring to the process by which our eyes must try to converge on two different focal lengths in rapid succession. Now he may very well be right that this is the component of 3D that has caused undesirable effects amongst some viewers, but to claim that our very biology isn’t up to the task because of how we’ve evolved strikes me as a reach.
I get that Ebert hates 3D – heck I even agree with some of the points he’s made in the past – and I get that Murch isn’t impressed by it either, but I’m not buying the so-called scientific explanation as to why it sucks. Read the full post and see if you’re on-board or not.
Next: A new report suggests that this is the year we will see Blu-ray players for as little as $40 and 42″ LCD HDTVs coming in at under $300. Despite the fact that these devices will likely not support advanced features such as 3D, Wi-Fi or streaming, those are nonetheless stunning price points. It looks like 2011 will be the year that fantastic picture quality will be within reach of nearly every economic group in the West.
Finally, Pioneer and Sharp have announced that they will be creating a new line of LCD HTDVs that will bear the “Elite” badge – a marque that hasn’t graced a TV display since Pioneer discontinued its production of plasma panels last year. But this new venture, rather than being a rebirth of the TVs that earned CNET’s highest rating of any HDTV, appears to be at best a new line of LCD’s from Sharp with Pioneer’s Elite designation and at worst, nothing more than a re-badging of Sharp’s existing line-up of high-end models.
At first it might seem that this is a dig at Sharp. It isn’t. I’ve had the chance to audition their latest line-up of Quattron 3D TVs and I was duly impressed by their image quality and feature set. They’re good TVs. But they aren’t plasma and they aren’t Pioneer units – in short, they aren’t “Elite”. Now I realize I should withhold final judgement until I see the new Elites in the flesh, but I am (as you can tell) highly skeptical. I’m also a little stunned that Pioneer – a company that put plasma on the map – has decided to back LCD as a display technology after all this time. I would have much preferred that they partner with Panasonic, a company that has stayed the course on plasma and has inherited Pioneer’s HDTV crown as a result. Perhaps Pioneer believed that LCD will eventually eclipse plasma as the best display technology, or maybe they’re just looking for a more cost-effective way to re-enter the TV business without having to actually make their own glass. Either way, I worry that the Elite marque – so long a pinnacle of quality in the A/V space – will be diminished by this move.
Update, Jan 30: I knew I had forgotten something. Back on the 20th, CNET’s David Katzmaier wrote an interesting piece concerning the merits of active vs. passive 3D based on his experiences comparing VIZIO’s new passive-3D TV (XVT3D650SV) to Panasonic’s class-leading active-3D set (TC-P65VT25). The results are instructive for those who are looking to make their move into the 3D arena: Passive possesses quite a few advantages over active (and I suspect will become the standard soon) but falls short in one key area which I hadn’t previously realized – the VIZIO TV at least, can’t do full HD in 3D. Their passive system uses a circular polarizer to blend two 540p images – that’s half the resolution of Panny’s active system which can present the full 1080p signal to each eye. I’m sure as newer passive systems come on the market, this limitation will be overcome, but in the meantime, active 3D would seem to be the better choice for folks who aren’t willing to sacrifice a pixel of their Blu-ray material.
Even though I am far from sold on the whole 3D bandwagon that has picked up so much steam this year from manufacturers and retailers alike, I’m giving a big thumbs-up to Vizio for their new 3D TV model – one that offers passive technology for the first time in North America.
I haven’t seen the massive 65″ XVT3D650SVin real life, so I can’t vouch for any of Vizio’s claims of performance, which include:
- causes less eyestrain (than active-shutter glasses)
- brighter images
- wider viewing angles
… when compared to the other 3D models out there, all of which use the active-shutter technology.
Just in case you haven’t been brushing up on all your in-home 3D jargon, here’s the big difference between 3D in the theatres and 3D at home:
Theatre 3D technology e.g. RealD, Dolby 3D etc, uses “passive” glasses – the cheap plastic shades they give out for free (and which so many people have taken home) are simply two polarized lenses which let in light coming in from two different angles. The right lens lets in one image while the left lens lets in another. Your brain assembles them into a single, 3-dimensional image. If you want to see this effect in action, take two pairs of these glasses next time you’re in the theatre and overlap the left lens from one pair with the right lens from the other pair, but make sure the glasses are held perpendicular to each other – you should see a completely dark lens that lets in almost no light at all. That’s because you’re now blocking both angles, not just one.
But most TV manufacturers so far have opted for “active” shutter glasses instead. With this technique, the TV flickers between two different images rapidly while the lenses of the battery-powered glasses flicker on and off at the same rates. The result is the same (more or less) as theatre-3D, but for two major differences: 1) the active shutter glasses are very expensive and require their own power source 2) because the lenses are only letting light into your eye half the time, image brightness in noticeably reduced.
So why do they do it? I can’t answer definitively, but my guess is that it was cheaper and easier for them to do it this way given that there was essentially no change required to the screen portion of the equation – they simply had to make it flicker between two images instead of one, which given the availability of 240Hz or higher screens, wasn’t that hard.
Passive systems require polarized light sources to match the polarized lenses in the inexpensive glasses. Developing a screen capable of kicking out two orientations of polarized light in this way must have been a little tricky and presumably more expensive. But that’s sheer guesswork on my part.
Whatever the reasons, Vizio has now broken the barrier and I think it’s a milestone for 3D adoption. We’ve seen from your comments how many of you object to the comfort and expense of active glasses, and the inherent limitation of how many people can watch at once when you only have so many of these glasses to hand out.
With Vizio’s system, which comes with four pairs of the passive-lens glasses, you can buy fancy extra glasses like Oakley’s recently released 3D line of stylin’ shades, or you can simply hold on to the pair you got at the last 3D movie you attended in a theatre. Either way, the cost – and to some degree the comfort – issue around 3D goggles is now largely dealt with.
Price will still be a stumbling block for most however, as the XVT3D650SV (wow terrible name) will run you $3,499 USD and there’s no word if they’ll even be bringing it to Canada. But you do get a lot for that investment: it’s a huge screen at 65″, it has edge-lit LED backlighting, internet apps (Vizio VIA), built-in Wi-Fi b/g/n, a cool remote control with a slide out QWERTY keyboard and SRS Surround audio.
My impression of Vizio up until a few months ago was that they were primarily a producer of inexpensive and not especially good TVs, but that all changed when CNET, who I respect a great deal, awarded them an editor’s choice in August – a first for the company.
Again, I’ll withold final judgement of the XVT3D650SV until I see it with my own eyes, but there’s no question for me that this is the shape that 3D must have in order to enjoy higher penetration in people’s homes – that is when we finally get around to buying new TVs.
Update, Feb 16: CNET has finally posted their full review of the Vizio XVT3D650SV and the verdict is mixed. Looks like the passive 3D technology compares favourably against active 3D systems, but the model’s poor 2D performance manages to hurt the overall rating considerably. My hope is that this shortcoming can be resolved on future models and that passive 3D eventually becomes the standard.
As much as I am loathe to admit it, in-home 3D is clearly coming at us with a vengeance and it won’t be long before most people have 3D-capable displays in their living rooms. Similarly, there has been no let-up in the pace of new 3D releases in the theatres – presumably to ensure continued revenues for the theatre companies as well as providing a reason to upgrade your home gear.
So given that 3D doesn’t appear to be going away, I guess it’s a good thing that sunglasses company Oakley has decided to tackle some of the issues that have faced every 3D audience member since red-and-blue lenses made their debut back in the 1950’s:
- Theatre-based glasses have flat lenses which allow light to leak through the sides. Because they don’t wrap around your eyes, the 3D effect does not encompass your peripheral vision, forcing you to turn your head to get the maximum 3D experience
- Home-based active-shutter glasses are heavy and require recharging for their internal batteries
- Both types of glasses are uncomfortable for extended use and, let’s face it, not very stylish.
To solve this, Oakley is going to launch a new line of optically-correct 3D glasses designed for people who want the best viewing and fashion experience both in theatres and at home.
What they haven’t solved yet – but apparently are working hard on – is the fact that theatre and home 3D systems are, so far, incompatible when it comes to 3D glasses. Movie theatres use a projection system known as “passive polarization“. This technique projects two different images on the movie screen at once, each image filtered through a polarized lens that modifies the “bias” of the light that is reflected back to your eyes. The inexpensive, disposable 3D glasses simply filter this light a second time so that your right and left eyes are receiving the appropriate version of the image.
Home systems, however, use a technique known as “active shutter” whereby the TV’s screen projects the two images in a rapidly alternating stream – flickering at very high frequencies. This method requires glasses that can cause the lens for each eye to flicker at the corresponding frequency, once again making sure that each eye gets the correct image to ensure the 3D effect.
Since one of Oakley’s goals is to eliminate the need to recharge your glasses, the obvious technique to embrace is the passive polarization system. But as of the writing of this post, there are hardly any home systems that support polarization-based 3D.
Oakley’s press release simply states that
Oakley is pursuing partnerships with manufacturers of home 3D systems that utilize passive polarization. This will allow consumers to use the same eyewear for home and cinema 3D entertainment.
As for styles and pricing, for now the company is only saying that both will be competitive with other products on the market and their own distinctly-styled product line-up.
I think it’s fair to say that this means we’ll be looking at fancy 3D specs priced in the $150-$350 USD range.
If that sounds like a good deal to you, Oakley is promising to release the first models this year “prior to the 2010 holiday season. It will initially be sold through premium optical distribution channels in the U.S., followed by a global launch in 2011.”
Update, November 8, 2010: Oakley has released their first set of 3D Glasses. They may not look any different from other Oakley specs – and that’s really the point – but you are looking at the future of 3D eyewear: The Oakley 3D GASCAN. Coming in at the bottom of the expected price range, you can order these from Oakley.com or drop by your nearest Sunglass Hut. Bring along $120 USD if you want to watch your next 3D movie in style.
If you’re one of the few in Canada who have bravely stepped up to become an early adopter of the new 3D-capable HDTVs that just hit retail shelves, we’ve got some good news. Bell TV will be airing rounds three and four of the 2010 Masters Tournament in 3D HD this weekend.
The 3D feed, which is originating from Augusta, Georgia via Comcast’s network and being distributed internationally, will be broadcast in commercial-free 3D HD from 5 pm to 7 pm ET on Saturday, April 10 and Sunday, April 11.
The broadcast will be free to Bell TV’s HD subscribers and viewable on channel 1000. Bell TV’s HD receivers are already 3D-ready, so the only extra equipment you’ll need is a 3D-capable TV and compatible 3D glasses. In case you’re wondering how well golf on TV translates into 3D, BusinessWeek reports that industry analysts who had a chance to preview the experience “claim the technology translates well to golf, due to the wide-open, outdoor setting of the sport and the noticeable variations in course topography.”
Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Canada