Monday, September 27, 2010

Imax for the Home?

Supposedly the best 3-D motion picture format available, will a Blu-Ray based 3-D Imax movie format for domestic use result in a nystagmus-free 3-D movie viewing for the home?

By: Ringo Bones

Claimed as the best 3-D motion picture format yet to provide long-term nystagmus-free viewing – and the results speak for itself - Imax have delighted its share of curious viewers lucky enough to see 15-to-20-minute visual extravaganzas of virtually life-like moving pictures. Even existing Imax theatres’ umbrella-like screens have been used to provide better ”stereopsis” for the latest 3-D movies. Given the current Blu-Ray disc's versatility when it comes to high capacity data storage, will a true Imax move – like multi-channel home theatre - ever become a domestic reality?

Born out of the advances in computer graphics, liquid-crystal technology and extra-wide-format films of the late 1980s, a Canadian company had developed a new technique that makes objects pop out of the screen with unprecedented clarity and brilliance and causes no eyestrain. The new technology called Imax Solido, was created by Imax Systems, the Toronto-based company that makes movies to be shown on screens the size of six-story buildings.

The first Solido film, a largely computer-generated extravaganza called Echoes of the Sun that was co-produced by the Japanese firm Fujitsu, was first shown at the Fujitsu Pavilion at Expo’90, an international fair in Osaka. Showgoers queued up for a chance to park in front of a huge wrap-around screen, strap on a pair of battery-powered goggles and enter a startingly realistic 3-D world.

The goggles are the key to the Solido system. Taking place of the funny cardboard-frame glasses used to watch old-style 3-D movies, the eyewear creates a stereoscopic effect by using lenses filled with liquid-crystal diodes, the same material that forms the numerals on the face of a digital wristwatch. When jolted by an electric current, an LCD lens can instantly switch from being essentially transparent to being totally opaque – like an efficient electronic shutter.

Controlled by an infrared signal broadcasted from the projection booth, the goggles’ left and right lenses open and close 24 times a second, in synchronization with a pair of Imax projectors showing first the left-eye view and then the right-eye view of the scene. The 3-D effect unusually crisp because the projectors are extremely stable, the separation of right-and-left-eye views is precise. And the movie frames are ten times as large as those of a typical 35-mm film.

But it is the wide, umbrella-shaped screen that provides the real breakthrough in Solido. When the brain combines the left-and right-eye images in a conventional 3-D movie, it creates a process known as stereopsis - an artificial three-dimensional space that seems to jut out from the screen. As an object in that space approaches the viewer, it becomes larger and larger. If it gets big enough to reach the outer edges of the picture, however, it will appear to snap back to the plane of the screen, sending conflicting depth cues to the brain and destroying the 3-D illusion.

The advantage of the wraparound Solido theatre is that the edges of the screen are beyond the audience’s field of view. “The screen seems to disappear in the peripheral vision”, says Imax producer Roman Kroitor. “The picture stays right there; you can reach out and touch it”.

Given the current advances in artefact-free digital data compression of visual data, existing DVD Blu-Ray discs can be used to store the large throughput of data required to achieve true Imax viewing in a domestic setting. Our existing Blu-Ray ready home theatre systems will probably need just a minimal upgrade to make it capable of showing true-blue Imax motion pictures at feature film lengths, and hopefully a nystagmus – a rapid involuntary oscillation of the eyeballs as from dizziness – free viewing of 3-D feature films for 2-hours or more.