Media

How HP rocks 3D: Earth Wind & Fire on a huge screen (video)

At the close of the Consumer Electronics Show, Monster Cable always throws a huge concert with a marquee band. This year, Earth Wind & Fire gave a rousing concert at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. And Hewlett-Packard captured the event live in stereoscopic 3D.

HP streamed the live video in 3D to a huge screen in a room across the way where VIP guests watched. I was impressed with all of the effort HP went to in order to broadcast the event. It took a lot of expensive technology, but it didn’t quite live up to the quality I’d expect from all of that effort. There were ghosts, or secondary images, when I viewed the screen with $3 passive glasses. When I looked with $120 glasses made by Gunnar Optics, it looked much better. But the occasional ghosts were still there.

To date, that is the problem with 3D viewing. As I’ve noted before, 3D is a lot of effort for only a little bit of gain. In a handful of examples, it has paid off. Films like Avatar look stunning in 3D in a movie theater, but are less impressive on home TVs. Nvidia 3D Vision looks cool when you’ve got a three-monitor set-up on a relatively expensive gamer’s computer. The Nintendo 3DS and MasterImage 3D glasses-free solutions look great on very small screens. But the rest of the efforts are falling short. Toshiba’s glasses-free 3D report didn’t really look good at CES.

HP’s Phil McKinney (above), vice president and chief technology officer of the HP Personal Systems Group, said there was enormous potential for 3D in consumer and commercial markets, and it makes sense for HP to develop the technology to make it happen. Researchers from HP Labs have set up a big screen in a lab to test their gear, and they spent a lot of time putting together the large theater-sized screen for the Earth Wind & Fire concert. Over time, McKinney believes that HP can build a “triple wide” screen that is three times as large and can capture all of the action on televised basketball game, from hoop to hoop, in a single wide camera shot. That kind of video could prove very immersive for sports fans, McKinney said.

Henry Sang, an HP Labs researcher (right), showed off a wide-lends 3D camera that captured the concert from the back of the ballroom. The camera (pictured at bottom) had 19 imaging engines to capture the data. It fed the video images to some HP workstations that processed the images live. They sent the images to a dozen projectors, which were synchronized to display a single image on the big movie screen. Users could pretty much see the show from anywhere in the room.

Sang acknowledged that the ghost images were present but he said that HP could improve on its efforts at the show. The answer was to spend about $100,000 more on computer gear to process the 3D imagery to get rid of the ghost effect.

If HP can pull it off and make it tolerable to watch, the applications could be plentiful. Carlos Montalvo, an executive who works for McKinney, said the applications include medical imaging, oil and gas exploration, financial services and other visual data analysis applications.

To get there, HP has to develop a solution that is flexible and can superimpose images on top of each other in real time. It has to scale up to large numbers of projectors and make trade-offs in brightness and sharpness, and it has to have redundancy to deal with failures. Today, the process of taking imagery from a concert and making it 3D is laborious. So HP also has to figure out ways to automate that.

For your enjoyment, here’s a YouTube video of Earth Wind & Fire that I took in old-fashioned two-dimensional video. Hopefully by next year’s concert, HP will have better quality live 3D viewing.