TV Adventures in the Third Dimension

TV Adventures in the Third Dimension

The world of the small screen will come to life sooner than you think. Among the highlights on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas are a plethora of new, advance 3D televisions, as manufacturers begin a full-forward offense to convince consumers that 3D TV is the next big thing. You may not think you need one – yet – but then you haven’t seen the new 3D TV broadcasts.

Yep – they’re on the way. Discovery TV and ESPN are already on board, and about ten more players are set to begin broadcasts later this year, according to an expert in the field. And that expert, Noam Shalev of Highlight Films, is ready for the world of tomorrow with a new and better – and cheaper – way to develop content for 3D TV broadcasts. In fact, he says, his company is already working on a deal to produce a 3D TV series for a “large nature broadcaster than is going to begin 3D broadcasts. The series will be filmed underwater, showing viewers a dimension of underwater life they have never seen before,” Shalev says.

Bet you won’t think you don’t need a 3D TV when that series comes out!

While you would think that 3D technology – whether in the production of the technology or the content for broadcasts – would be an affair for Japan and Hollywood, it turns out that Israeli ingenuity has gained an important foothold in several aspects, both on the hardware, software, and even content ends -  of the coming 3D revolution. For Shalev’s Highlight Films, that foothold comes in the form of a better – and especially cheaper – way to produce 3D content.

“The rule of thumb in the industry is that the cost of 3D production is at least three times the cost of standard, 2D production,” says Shalev. “Through judicious use and unorthodox tweaking of the available tools, software and hardware, we’ve been able to reach the same professional results that large studios have, at a much higher cost.”

Shalev, who has been in the movie production business for 19 years, both inside and outside of Israel, has been working with his head of production, Aviv Peres (no relation), to develop the unique workflow that enables them to deliver 3D content for as little as half of what other major players in the field can. “We deliver by far the best quality at a price no one can touch, from what I can tell, and I know the industry well,” Shalev says. Besides the aformentioned TV series on underwater life, Shalev is also producing a full-length 3D movie on the Dead Sea – the first ever made about that body of water – which will be Israel’s entry into the New Seven Wonders of the World contest.

It’s important to note, however, that Shalev hasn’t exactly invented something new; call him a technique innovator, instead. “The cameras and software that go into making a 3D production are very complicated, and new stuff is coming out all the time,” he says. “The only way to learn how to do what we do is to work with the equipment and software.” While, in time, he expects other producers to be able to duplicate his success, Shalev says that by that time he expects to move ahead of the pack, anyway. “Filming for 3D is much different than filming for 2D, and my camera crews are top-flight, so I would imagine that it would take awhile for competitors to catch up with us.” With that, Shalev is investigating whether his production methods are patentable.

Meanwhile, Shalev has begun producing promotional films and travelogues using his methods, and response has been great, he says, with TV channels and producers around the world expressing interest. You can view some of his movies on the Highlight Films site, although, Shalev says, the standard 3D red and blue paper glasses most people will have as they watch on a small computer screen won’t do his work justice.

An Israeli company that has invented something new in the 3D arena is Elrom Studios, the people that put Hebrew subtitles at the bottom of your favorite movies and TV shows. And, says Noam Gal, Director of the Support Department in Elrom’s Development Group, the company’s already popular ELR Studio package is even more popular, thanks to the addition of support for 3D subtitles.

While there are no plans for 3D TV broadcasts in Israel anytime soon, Gal says, there are plenty of other countries that need subtitling services and software for their 3D broadcasts – and Elrom is ready with a simpler, better and cheaper solution, eliminating the problem of “sinking” subtitles in 3D content. “As the 3D image deepens, the subtitles seem to move backwards, so the viewer feels something is ‘off,’ even if they don’t know exactly what it is,” Gal says. “Our technology more precisely positions the subtitle, keeping it consistent with the video.” It may sound like a minor technical fix, but it’s actually a very significant accomplishment in the subtitle business – an accomplishment that has been generating a lot of interest, Gal says.

And if you are someone who watches TV – or uses a video or stills camera, a computer monitor, or any other device with a screen, you might as well get used to the idea of 3D, Highlight’s Shalev says. “The whole video industry is working on this, and they have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in it already. It’s not just TV,” Shalev says, “it’s the whole array of video products.” And while, for now, you really do need glasses to get the full 3D effect, within two or three years we will begin seeing the first TV sets and screens that let you experience 3D without glasses, he says. It’ll be a whole small world in – not on – the small screen, coming to a screen near you, sooner than you think!

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