I had the opportunity to go to the local Panasonic Touch the Future Tour back in March (sorry, a little late on getting this one out). I thought I would focus on my findings as the theme for Installment 029. It is a bit of a diversion (once again) from our drill down on HDMI, but it is directly related to what we have been discussing.
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One of the primary themes of the tour is “Full HD 3D.” Naturally, I was curious what that means as far as the signals on the HDMI cable because I still am confused regarding all of the mixed messages around HDMI 1.3, HDMI 1.4, and 3-D formats. See the previous Installments for insights on the actual HDMI Licensing, LLC specifications themselves, but I needed to know what is different about Full HD 3D and how that impacts HDMI’s feature sets and requirements – or is it just another marketing ploy.
First of all, let’s take a look at the tour itself. As I have mentioned previously, I did have the opportunity to experience the Panasonic 3-D demo trailer (literally an 18-wheeler trailer) at CEDIA last fall. It showed off a Panasonic 103” plasma display with prototype electronics for supporting HDMI 1.4 and 3-D. A totally awesome experience that really sold me on the technology. I almost expected the same thing for this, but actually was somewhat disappointed. I guess their target market was focused more at the consumer and affordable products this time, which probably was appropriate for getting a message across to the mass market.
The concept also was more than just an awesome 3-D demo. There were many other “3-D related” consumer products like digital cameras, camcorders, some audio gear, and photo frames. I will focus on the two primary 3-D demonstrations.
The 3-D Demo “Room”
Nvidia’s PC-based 3-D Gaming Demo
And what would it be without some trademarked marketing logos……
So, what is this “3D Full HD” thing all about anyhow?
I am a one of those people that booth workers hate to have to meet. Needless to say, I finally got to someone who actually understood my questions and was knowledgeable. It turns out that he was one of the people out of Panasonic’s New Jersey headquarters who trains the salespeople for the major CE store chains. He got a good laugh when I asked him if he were the one who trained Best Buy on how to synch up the glasses for $150.
Let me back up for a minute and cover the most technical information I was able to find on just what “3D Full HD” means. To quote Panasonic’s Site:
“FULL HD 3D Image Display – Frame Sequential Technology
In order to bring cinema-like realism to 3D movies at home, we insisted on using the Frame Sequential technology for 3D image playback. Separate high-quality images for the left and right eyes are recorded with 1920 X 1080 Full-HD quality and alternately played at the high speed of 60 frames per second (fps), making a total of 120 fps. By watching the screen through special 3D Eyewear that are timed to open and close the right and left lenses in synchronization with the alternating images, the viewer is treated to high-quality FULL HD 3D viewing. This technology solves the problems of image deterioration and blurring that were common to conventional 3D methods, and brings theater-quality images right into your room.
First of all, notice the trademark on the 3D Full HD logo. That is the first clue that what they are delivering is a well thought out marketing plan. Panasonic has been an early and influential adopter of 3-D technologies. This “tour” was proof that they have expanded the concept across a wider range of products than just 3-D TVs and Blu-ray players. If you go to Panasonic’s “Full HD 3D” site at http://www.panasonic.com/3d/?cm_sp=Homepage%20Static%20Ads-_-PNA-_-3D1292010&cm_re=PCEC-_-Product1-3D1292010, you will notice how this logo becomes the focal point for their 3-D message, content, and ecosphere of products. They are serious.
What I derived from this is that it mostly is a marketing way of saying “we are delivering the best 3-D experience we can based upon currently technologies and specifications.” It was interesting to me that I only could find one person out of the twenty or so at the “booth” that knew anything about the underlying technologies that made their approach better than the competition’s. I really had to pry to find out what that means at a technical level.
Before I get into that, I do want to say that their new line of plasma displays (the VT25s) looked awesome. They were great with 2-D in addition to 3-D. I highly recommend them for anyone looking at a new display. Their Blu-ray players also have a lot of nice features like 8-channel analog audio out and two HDMI connectors out. One is for running HDMI 1.4 to a display and the other is for sending a separate HDMI signal to a “legacy” receiver if required. I did neglect to ask if they could be bound together for a “dual link” HDMI configuration though. They also have a full line of features with their Viera Cast suite of web entertainment and home video conferencing services.
First and foremost is that they still are complying with the current HDMI specifications and have not done something “non-standard” like upping the bandwidth of the HDMI link to something like 15 Gb/s to achieve “full” eye to eye resolution and frame rate, which was one of my original potential assumptions. Panasonic essentially is saying that they are doing Frame Sequential 3-D from a Blu-ray Disc and that their Blu-ray players and their displays use as much bandwidth as is available over HDMI 1.4 (just like anyone serious about competing in this space probably is doing). In fact, they said that anyone competing in this space probably will deliver the same level of technical features that they are if they really want to compete.
What they are doing, and the big take away that I got out of it, is that they are using their own proprietary video processor for delivering “peak performance.” I looked into it after I got back and now understand their strategy much better. They have their own UniPhier (Universal Platform for High-quality Image Enhancing Revolution) video processor technology that they are integrating into their entire consumer electronics line. That gives them the ability to do some amazing things with the video and audio that other manufacturers may not be able to achieve using commercially available chips sets.
The important thing is that it is not about increasing the speed over the cable. It still runs at the specified 10.2 Gb/s. It is about what they are doing with the video from source to sink and the quality with which they can do it. As you know, the new Blu-ray specifications (as a minimum) define 3-D video formats at 24 frames per second per eye. What Panasonic is doing at their displays is taking that frame rate and frame doubling it twice to achieve 96 frames per second per eye. While this seems like a logical thing to do and definitely allows for a much better and flicker-free experience, it does require a lot of processing power to do, especially when dealing with the amount of data coming in over the HDMI port. That is where their UniPhier technology comes in. It is more than capable of handling and processing those data rates.
An additional area where the UniPhier helps with delivering the “Full HD 3D” experience is with other sources of 3-D content. When you start looking at the broadcast-level side-by-side or top-bottom formats, they really are dealing with a form of compression to take a full frame and squeeze it into half a frame (for each eye). The 3-D specifications we have been discussing for the last several Installments have focused on the format standards, but not the way to deliver them. As you can imagine, there are better algorithms than others for encoding (compressing) and decoding (decompressing) video images. The better ones take a lot more processing power to do well, especially at higher data rates. Once again, that is where Panasonic’s UniPhier technology comes into play. They can deliver a superior picture with better image quality and less artifacts. That, once again, helps deliver “peak performance.”
The bottom line is that the “Full HD 3D” moniker is not about doing anything that is outside of the realm of the standards. It is about delivering a top quality experience leveraging the best “task specific” designs and components available. It is not to say that other manufacturers cannot achieve comparable quality. It is to say that Panasonic, as one of the leaders in the 3-D market, is setting the initial bar pretty high – and keeping it affordable at the same time.
Our next Installment FINALLY wraps up HDMI by pulling all of the background we have provided on HDMI and associated technologies together and looks at HDMI Matrix Switchers and what makes some better than others.
Of course, we cover things in a lot more detail and provide a broader perspective on the experience in the Podcast itself , so take a listen. Thanks.