The Next Dimension: MTV Experiments with Live 2D-to-3D Conversion
Few people saw the 3D broadcast of the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards, which took place Sept. 6 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. In fact, the experience was limited to a few hundred fans, winners of a contest held by Trojan condoms, who viewed the VMAs as an “enhanced experience” in 3D in the L.A. Live Theater across the street.
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But the success of this VMA presentation may provide a pathway out of the chicken-and-egg conundrum of not having enough 3D content to drive audience acceptance that is plaguing attempts to fill 24/7 3DTV programming schedules. The 2012 VMAs demonstrated that live 2D-to-3D conversion is feasible on a professional level. While the 3D conversion isn’t perfect, the result would be satisfactory for many production applications.
To put this landmark experience on the 3D screen, the original 1080/60i HD feed from the Staples Center was given extra dimension by simultaneous, unassisted 2D-to-3D conversion through a Blackmagic Design Teranex VC100 signal processor. (The Teranex unit also converted from 1080i to 1080p to accommodate the Barco projector at the venue.)
What the “Trojan Charged Intensified VMA Viewing Party” audience saw on the 3D screen, although admittedly not the cinema-quality 3D of Avatar, was thoroughly enjoyable. That’s partially thanks to the fact the Teranex processor created most of the 3D in positive parallax, or receding into the screen, thereby avoiding many of the stereographic taboos of hyperconvergence (objects are too close to the viewer’s eye to be viewed comfortably), edge violations, keystoning or alignment errors.
Additionally, since the 2D-to-3D conversion was from a single HD stream, there were no sync/genlock conflicts or risks of full reverse stereo imagery (left and right images are swapped) that have plagued other similar attempts. Only when the show’s host, Kevin Hart, was introducing the opening acts did a minor anomaly appear. MTV’s iconic Moonman figure had been projected on the screen at the rear of the stage in the Staples Center behind Hart, but in the 3D version in the L.A. Live theater, it seemed to hover somewhere in the air above him. Still, this was the first time this technology had been given a public airing in the United States and, hey, it’s only rock ’n’ roll.
Blackmagic Design’s Teranex VC100 signal processor had been used previously by the Tennis Channel to convert the French Open into 3D on Memorial Day weekend, and both France’s Digital Factory (DF) and Germany’s ZDF have been employing Teranex systems to convert archival 2D material. But the 2012 VMAs marked its debut in the United States.
Jeff Jacobs, senior vice president and executive in charge of production for the MTV Music Group, handled most of the behind-the-scenes content production and distribution during the VMA Week, most prominently including producing the 3D screening in the L.A. Live theater.
“The 2D-to-3D conversion of the production that was seen at the streaming party in the L.A. Live theater was completely non-obtrusive to the main show,” Jacobs says. “Not one creative thing was changed and not a single camera was repositioned. That’s the magic of the Teranex technology.”
Positioning computer-generated graphics in Z-space can be one of the trickiest aspects of 3D production. Most stereographers feel they should not draw attention to their work by popping imagery out of the screen or competing with objects in the background. During the MTV Video Music Awards, all the billboards and lower-thirds appeared right on the plane of the screen, as they should.
“We had the option of taking a clean feed [no graphics] from the production control room and inserting our own 3D graphics,” Jacobs explains, “but after seeing how good the graphics looked after the Teranex 2D-to-3D conversion, we decided to go with the dirty feed [graphics included] and let the system position the graphics based on its own algorithms.”
New Teranex 3D Processor to Come
What is the magic inside this box? Ray Conkling, the general manager of Teranex systems at Blackmagic Design, explains, “Our Teranex 3D Processor incorporates advanced Teranex proprietary technology, which includes two powerful video processing engines. Each engine has a Single Instruction, Multiple Data [SIMD] processing array that enables operations to occur on thousands of pixels simultaneously, along with a dedicated image warping processor that allows for complex image manipulation. This design combination of brute force SIMD processing and complex image warping and image processing algorithms gives us the ability to create a number of applications.”
Although the Teranex VC100 signal processors have been capable of 2D-to-3D conversion for a couple of years, the specific algorithms used for the VMA production will be incorporated into Blackmagic Design’s Teranex 3D Processor system, which will be released in the fourth quarter of this year for $3,995.
The impact of this 2D-to-3D conversion demonstration could open new horizons for 3DTV delivery as long as the idealized “perfect” does not become the enemy of what is currently possible in 3D presentations. Broadcasters can factor in that conversion to 3D does not affect the original master, so improved dimensionalizing processes can always be applied later when they become available.
“If more audiences fall in love with the 3D experience, more viewers will demand it from their entertainment providers,” Jacobs predicts. “We are still at the ‘show and tell’ stage of 3D home entertainment. The more viewers who can experience it will determine how the broadcast industry embraces it.”