Master Image tells us why it's finally 3D's time to shine

TechEye ventured to South Hall 2 of the LVCC to meet the charming folk at Master Image 3D, the company which is cleaning up off a 3D boom that is only set to swell. We had a chat with Roy Taylor, formerly at Nvidia, about what makes this 3D enthusiasm different from the crazes of the 20s and 50s – and why he thinks the time is, finally, right. 

First off, there’s something that differentiates Master Image from the competitors. Everyone and their dog uses Parallax. But Master Image invented something called Cell Parallax, which instead of diving a screen into strips as usual, you can shift around the cells as needed to create the 3D illusion.

Each cell is smaller than a pixel. As a result, you can produce the same 3D effect but without the darkness and blurriness that comes with using stripes – and it’s clearer too. The landscapes are shiftable, so you can move the cells around vertically or horizontally, anywhere you need.

Master Image 3D is putting this technology on panels for handhelds, such as smartphones and tablets, so you can view 3D without having to wear the glasses. That’s something TVs aren’t really able to do effectively yet – but we’ll go into that later.

OEMs and partners love Master Image because it offers flexibility when applying the TNLCD panel. It’s got an incredibly high success yield, standing at over 99 percent, because if you screw screw up the process then you’ve screwed the panel too, and after a time that begins to really cost.

Master Image can either supply the machines it makes that do the mounting and ship the 3D layer, or they can take the TFTs and do the manufacturing and assembly themselves. So that’s why the OEMs like it – they  don’t don’t have to threaten any existing relationships with partners. 
Roy Taylor showed us a fantastic smartphone from Japan, made by Hitachi with Master Image technology – it played 3D video perfectly without the user having to wear glasses.

It’s a shame then that at the moment this kind of glassless tech is strictly going to be handheld. Roy Taylor tells us this is for two reasons, one technological and one physiological. 

The tech problem is that the viewing cone for 3D sits at about ten degrees. Which means if you’re sat with a huge 3D TV and want to settle down to enjoy a film, you’ve got to be plonked right in front of it or your image is going to blur and the effect will worsen. It’s fine with mobile because you always automatically move the object so you are always perpendicular, Taylor tells us, but if the screen is fixed you become aware of it.

That said, the viewing angle is going to increase – it’s being worked on by all and sundry. How soon? We don’t know.

The physiological reason is down to the human brain. Remember, 3D tech is essentially based on trickery. “What happens is your brain throws a wobbler,” Taylor tells us. “When you’re in a cinema, and you’ve got glasses on and it’s dark, you have got rid of your peripheral vision without even realising. When you have a tablet, or phone, you also get rid of your peripheral vision, which is why people get in the way when they’re sending a text as they walk down the street. If your peripheral vision is there, your brain gets confused.”

“Every fixed screen product you see, at the show here, involves glasses. That’s because of these issues, and that’s why we’re focusing on smartphones and tablets.

“No one disagrees, I can say pretty safely, that getting rid of the glasses is a good idea. No one as yet has solved these problems.”

We asked Taylor why this re-launch of 3D – while of course technologically advanced – is really beginning to take off. Everyone wants a slice of the pie. According to Taylor, there are “Three big forces pushing the move to stereo 3D. This spring, you’ll see dual lens smartphones. Lenses are becoming inexpensive and the feature is sexy – so it’s going to happen. Consumers will be able to take their own 3D photographs and clips.”

Integration is key here. When someone with a smartphone has snapped a shot in 3D they’re going to want to do it, and as has been the buzz of CES for the past few days, connected devices are most definitely the future. You’ll take your photo on your smartphone , and when you want to have a look you’ll be able to get that on your tablet, your TV, or heck – perhaps even your car. “User generated will be the big driving force,” Taylor says.

A huge reason behind the push of 3D TV is the movie industry. Over the last two years there have been roughly 18 3D films released but over a hundred are coming in the pipeline. Hollywood wants to push 3D, hard, for more dosh. The ticket price is higher and it drastically reduces piracy.

There’s tons of content coming with the films. Taylor says to us: “Hollywood could potentially be calling up Steve Jobs and asking for a 3D iPad.”

The third point is interactive 3D. Gaming is going to be popular but more interestingly is the technology that’s going to bring Star Wars’ holographic chess to life. At the moment objects seem to come out of the screen towards you – it’s a vertical screen experience. But if you take a phone and it’s laying down, horizontal, you can get that image above the screen like a hologram, says Taylor. And if you add a motion sensor you’re set.

“Master Image is working with two companies making great strides,” Taylor tells us. “Rightware and Scaleform. Rightware is in Finland, Scaleform is in Maryland – we’re hopeful that by Mobile World Congress we’ll be able to demonstrate.”

For any consumer technology boom, Taylor says, there’s a trinity again. You need the technology, the application and the medium to all be on point. It happened with the television and it happened with Sony’s Walkman, where the tech was an integrated circuit, the app was the music, and the medium was the CD. For stereoscopic 3D, we have the technology and it’s getting better. The app is the games and the medium is how you access all your content.

Anecdotally speaking, the US seems incredibly excited about 3D television at CES. The UK, not so much – but certainly it is something the electronics companies and the film industries want in homes.  

For the technology we saw today? It does look good. And how have others responded? “The reaction has been fantastic. The reason I look like a washed out dish rag is because I’ve had meetings all day, and everyone has loved it. I shared a cab with CBS the other morning, they saw the Hitachi phone, and they loved it.”