NHK to unveil next-generation 3-D technology by next year

by Mark Schilling

NHK, Japan’s giant public broadcaster, has become a world leader in 3-D technology, in partnership with the private sector. NHK researchers have been developing 3-D systems since 1990 and NHK Technical Services, an NHK group company, has made more than 300 3-D programs to date, from live sports shows to dramas. Clients include the International Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Tsukuba Space Center in Ibaraki Prefecture and the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution in Kobe.

Now, using Super Hi-Vision 3-D television technology, NHK researchers have created a next-generation 3-D system that enables the viewing of startlingly realistic holographic 3-D images without special glasses. The images are recorded using an array of tens of thousands of tiny “lenslets” that capture every particle of light and a CMOS (complimentary metal oxide semiconductor) image sensor 16 times more sensitive than those needed for HDTV recording.

Don’t expect to see this system at your neighborhood multiplex anytime soon, however. “It’s not ready for commercial applications,” says NHK Technical Services spokesman Masaki Kobayashi. “The viewing range [ability to see the image from many different positions] is still too narrow, making it impractical for theaters.”

NHK, however, has developed a 3-D projection system using special glasses that can be used for cinema or theater screenings of 3-D films. At the Tokyo Fiesta held at Grand Central Terminal in New York on Oct. 27 and 28, hundreds of New Yorkers enjoyed screenings of a 3-D short introducing Tokyo tourist attractions, produced by NHK Technical Services. Full-scale commercialization of the system, says Kobayashi, “will start this year or next,” in cooperation with private companies.

“The key to success is the right content,” Kobayashi commented. “Once Japanese audiences have content that they really want to see, we might see the beginning of a 3-D boom.”

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