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Six Questions: THX’s Rick Dean

15 Apr, 2011 By: Chris Tribbey

Rick Dean

As SVP at THX Ltd. and chairman of the 3D@Home Consortium, Rick Dean’s professional life is pretty much all 3D all the time. He’s spearheading the development of all THX 3D certification initiatives and THX Media Director, a technology that aims to simplify home theater setup and operation, and maximize the use of 2D and 3D product features.

Dean currently serves as governor of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, active in the Hollywood section, and has served in standards groups. As chair of the 3D@Home Consortium he’s helping to drive standards for installing 3D in the consumer’s home as well as commercial applications.

He took the time to chat with Home Media Magazine about 3D home electronics certification, the quality of today’s 3D content in the home, and the physiological effects of 3D in the home.

HM: What was the impetus for the THX 3D Certification program, and what did it take to get it up and running?

Dean: At THX, we monitor market trends, especially as they indicate improved ways to create and present entertainment. After the success of 3D in cinema, migrating to the home market was an obvious next step for the content creators and electronics manufacturers. This was particularly true with the growth of available high-definition sources from cable, satellite and, of course, Blu-ray. The higher-quality delivery medium was a natural fit for 3D. We participate in many of the standards groups for media and consumer electronics and saw the activity for creating 3D standards move at an astonishing pace. Interestingly, no standards have come forth specifically for 3D performance in the displays — early entries in the market had very unpredictable 3D performance. We saw this as a place where THX could bring our certification testing experience to the market, and by setting a level of performance for 3D as we already have for 2D, we could help build consumer confidence which will in turn grow the 3D market. Simply put, 3D offers a new and exciting way to tell a story in the form of a movie. Used well, it is a great enhancement to the moviemaker’s ability to immerse the audience in the story being told.

HM: What have been the biggest problems encountered by the program with 3D content for the home, for both players and content?

Dean: Although it is breaking free now, the original problem with content was lack of availability. It is still trickling out more slowly than many had hoped. There was much to discover about 3D images on a large screen as opposed to a smaller screen in the home. Several rules are being applied today that were not well understood before, all helping to improve the 3D entertainment experience.

As for the players, performance can vary widely, mostly because it is still a new technology. And as we see the new generation of these devices come out, we also see the effects of the standards groups and, clearly, consumer feedback. There are many very good players on the market. Of course, if it is THX certified, you can count on a high-quality experience. On the playback side, our certification program for 3D displays looks at more than 400 different points of reference and about 1,000 different qualifications that the product has to match.

HM: What has 3D@Home discovered in the way of physiological effects of 3D in the home, and how has the industry gone about addressing these concerns?

Dean: So much is still being discovered regarding the physiological effects of 3D in the home. We’re seeing that, with the range of new 3D products now available for home use, the quality of viewing is not based solely on image-related aspects but is also tied explicitly to human vision development and human perceptual experience. To explore this further, the 3D@Home Consortium announced a partnership with the American Optometric Association to improve understanding of 3D viewing as a safe and appropriate technology for the home. We’re working closely to share data and jointly promote vision health utilizing stereoscopic 3D displays. More research on the impact of 3D on the human visual system could even lead to the possibility of detecting and treating vision problems.

HM: What headway is the 3D@Home Consortium making in terms of developing standards for 3D in the home, especially for glasses and transmission of 3D content?

Dean: First, 3D@Home is not a standards body. As a consortium, our task is to conduct investigations and research, which provides information to standards bodies to help in the standards creation. One of our steering committees is working with the Consumer Electronics Association creating a testing program for 3D glasses. The idea is to create a forum where the different manufacturers can see how the performance in the market as a whole is shaping up.  Of course, we keep the results anonymous. This is separate from our own 3D Certification program.

HM: What, in your opinion, are the greatest obstacles to consumer adoption of 3D in the home, and what will it take for mass adoption?

Dean: Certainly more 3D content is critical. But more important are the already complex operations of the current equipment in the home. 3D just adds more complication on an already complicated home entertainment system. What we do not want to see is a frustrating consumer experience, as they have to dig through several layers of menus in the display to get what they want, which may result in returning equipment to the store.

If the system, 2D or 3D — display, AVR, Blu-ray player — could assist in making the right format choices, then the consumer can just sit back and enjoy. We’re helping to get to this nirvana with a technology called THX Media Director. THX Media Director communicates artistic vision through metadata, which is added to a title. This metadata includes content descriptors for specific audio and visual characteristics that represent what’s required for optimal presentation, from the desired color profile to audio reference levels. The metadata is read and acted upon by consumer electronics devices, such as TVs, A/V receivers and Blu-ray players, which automatically select the optimal settings for the content and the capabilities of the home theater system. For consumers, this means that entertainment is finally delivered to the home in a way that faithfully represents the artist’s intent, without the need to use multiple remote controls to navigate through a variety of feature selection menus. We are after a lean-back experience where the content can describe itself to the devices better, and be seen as it was intended.

HM: What does THX look for when it certifies 3D displays?

Dean: Often, in the most critical of viewing environments where the final judgment is made on how a movie or television show looks, high-quality displays are used. Our goal is to identify the highest-performance consumer displays that match many of the same criteria we would expect in the professional market and brand them THX.  During our certification process of 3D-certified displays we conduct more than 400 lab tests, evaluating left- and right-eye images for color accuracy, cross-talk, viewing angles and video processing performance. Testing is critical because our certification process requires that the display presents both the left- and right-eye images accurately, with minimal artifacts, to ensure a pristine 3D effect for the viewer. As 3D content starts to ramp up, we believe there will still be a considerable amount of 2D viewing taking place on what’s touted as a 3D display. We require manufacturers to also meet our requirements for great 2D performance, so the consumer gets the best entertainment experience now and in the future.


About the Author: Chris Tribbey

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