Make any TV 3D? This converter will do it

3d pioneer gene dolgoff shows off his in development instant converter

Gene Dolgoff planted the seed in Gene Roddenberry’s imagination that blossomed into the forward-thinking Holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He invented and built the world’s first LCD projector. He worked on the development of the HDTV system as we know it today and, in his current role at 3-D Vision, he’s revolutionized lenticular imaging technologies. He also developed the 3-D Vision process, a low-cost analog-to-anaglyphic 3D that offers improved optical effects with none of the color loss or eye strain that is typically associated with the old method. He took it public with the Halloween 2010 edition of The Rachel Ray Show in 3D, distributing cardboard-and-plastic glasses with TV Guide subscriptions.

For his next trick, Dolgoff wants to deliver digital stereoscopic 3D to every living room using a low-cost device that doesn’t require you to upgrade your TV. Even if said TV is a crusty, old tube set that can’t even push past a 480i video mode. In short, he wants every TV to be a 3DTV. He’s established a Fundable to get the project going — complete with a competition built around having a community-sourced design for the device — and he may well turn to Kickstarter for additonal funding once the groundwork is established.

Dolgoff envisions a converter, a small device that will connect to your TV and, thanks to the magic of image-processing software, convert what you see to 3D. You’ll need special glasses (included with the converter), just like you would with any other consumer 3DTV. The aim here is to offer an affordable alternative upgrading your TV set, a commendable goal when you consider that many of us already stepped up to HDTVs before 3DTVs were introduced as the Next Big Thing.

I was immediately doubtful when I read the pitch. After seeing it in person, my doubts were proven to be unfounded. This tech works. And it works exceptionally well.

3d pioneer gene dolgoff shows off his in development instant converter fundable

3D conversion that works

I spent a few hours visiting with Dolgoff at his 3-D Vision lab on Long Island. First he showed off some of the aforementioned Rachel Ray stuff which, while impressive for its grand-scale delivery, doesn’t come close in terms of quality to the 3D tech that is in use as of 2012. Eventually we moved on to the converter, which currently exists only in prototype form. The unit is massive, and almost too heavy to lift. It houses multiple fans, which makes for a loud demonstration. It works though, and Dolgoff promises that the mass-produced version of this converter will be much, much smaller, the sort of thing that could fit easily into anyone’s media center.

First we took a look at a few things on an old Sony WEGA flatscreen, a TV set that went up to a whopping (at the time) 480p. A DVD of The Wizard of Oz, a Blu-ray of Bee Movie, and a PlayStation 3 version of NCAA Football 13 served as the testing materials. There’s an unavoidable, minimally distracting, flicker that you get when watching the converted 3D on a CRT screen, but the optical effect is immediately noticeable. In every case, the converter capably translated the depth of the image into a 3D display.

The flickering disappears when you step up to modern-day HDTV, though depending on which set you use you do see some minor ghosting. Again, it’s not distracting to the point that it draws you away from the convincing 3D effect. I played a race in MotorStorm Apocalypse and, once again, the added depth that the converter offers is immediately noticeable. It was the next step in the test that really drove home the potential of this device, however.

Dolgoff switched us over to a live television broadcast. The converter software works exactly as it does with content pulled from a piece of physical media. Old-style 2D cartoons — such as an old Looney Tunes episode that we came across — don’t really convert, but any true video or CG animation does. A local high-school marching band’s performance stood out in particular, especially during long shots that took in the entire field. Same goes for Olympic soccer, which happened to be airing at the time. Given how few properly 3D broadcasts there are, the converter even makes a place for itself in 3DTV-equipped households.

The effect perhaps isn’t as pronounced as native 3D content that was actually shot with stereoscopic cameras. This is particularly true in the case of effects that seem to pop out of the screen. The converter does a brilliant job with depth, but the more gimmicky stuff really comes out more with content that was actually crafted for 3D. The converter can actually handle that too; send a 3D video signal through  the box, and it will process it.

It’s software doing the heavy lifting, as Dolgoff explained. “It takes the two-dimensional input video signal and it looks at two frames at a time. It looks at brightness, contrast, color saturation, sharpness, position in the frame, because as the depth goes back, all of these things decrease. When you have motion, the occlusion of background objects by foreground objects also gives a lot of information,” he said, offering up a familiar example.

“If you’re looking out the window of a train, the phone poles are going the real fast, the buildings are going a little slower, the mountains are going real slow, and the moon isn’t moving at all. The The further back you are, the slower the motion. So all of these different factors are taken into account to create the stereo pair, and it’s done in a way that is consistent with the algorithms that we have in our brains, so when we look at it we can reconstruct the three-dimensional scene with accurate 3D information in it.”

microsoft patent hints at star trek like holodeck

A lifelong quest to record reality

It’s helpful to know where Dolgoff is coming from to really appreciate the passion he’s got for this work. The advances he’s made in 3D are but one step in a lifelong pursuit of a much grander goal. “When I was three years old, I remember very clearly looking around and saying, ‘Wow, look at this!'” He gestures at the general world surrounding us before continuing. “I wanted to record it and play it back. So my life became all about that.”

“I made my first 3DTV in 1963, and it was put into the Brooklyn museum. It was a stereoscopic CRT. I started doing these lenticular 3D pictures in ’63. Holography in ’64. In ’68, I got the idea to use a light valve to modulate an external source instead of a CRT, and I then had the basis of the LCD projector. It took me until 1970 to make it digital and use liquid crystals as my digital light valve. It took a long time to really get the prototype finished, but I did finished the world’s first digital LCD projector in April of ’84. I have it here [in the lab], and it still works.”

“I’ve always been involved in imaging and different ways of recording and playing back reality as faithfully as possible, and I’m still on that quest.”

In essence, Dolgoff envisions a Holodeck future. Planting the seed for that Strek Trek innovation with its creator speaks to this big picture goal. He has working technology, in his lab right now that delivers glasses-free 3D on a heavily modified CRT TV set. In an opposite corner, there’s a holographic display unit, once again a fully functional one. It’s the goal of the long game, but the technology isn’t there yet on a mass scale.

“Movies are great, and they’re making a billion dollars a picture sometimes, but consumer 3D is not moving so fast. It’s a chicken-egg problem,” Dolgoff explained. “There’s just not enough content out there for people to justify buying a 3D set, and without an installed base of a lot of 3D set owners, there’s not enough money for [entertainment companies] to produce more 3D content. So there’s maybe 4 million 3D sets sold in this country. It’s kind of going slowly.”

“My whole initial thrust was [the knowledge] that we can’t get everyone to buy a new TV, that’s going to be a logjam. So let’s find a way to make everybody able to see 3D right away with whatever they have.  That’s what this technology was designed to do. Once we get it out there, it’s going to get… a lot more people watching 3D on their 2D sets and a lot more people buying 3D sets. That’ll start increasing the installed  base, which will then provide the incentive for more content to be made in 3D. And then the 3D consumer field will really take off.”

Dolgoff pegs the lifespan for 3D as we know it, with the glasses and such, at around 5 to 10 years. Glasses-free displays will follow, but the ultimate goal is consumer holography. Not only do you lose the glasses, you lose the screen too. The barrier between actual reality and recorded reality slips away. “The basis of holography is the interference of energy, and that’s the way reality works,” Dolgoff explained. “So we’re just playing back reality the way reality works. That’ll be the next step.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: DIY smartphones and zip-on bike tires

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Gaming

These are the best Xbox One games out right now

More than four years into its lifespan, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From 'Cuphead' to 'Halo 5,' the best Xbox One games offer something for everyone.
Outdoors

Keep your noggin protected in style with this 3D-printed bike helmet

Kupol is the bike helmet that uses 3D printing to improve the design, making it safer, more comfortable, and better ventilated than traditional cycling helmets while remaining lightweight and attractive at the same time.
Home Theater

I’ve seen the 8K TV future, and you should be excited. Here’s why

Samsung set the tech world on fire when it announced it would sell an 85-inch 8K TV in the U.S. along with several 8K screen sizes in Europe. Debates over the validity and value of such a high resolution have continued since, and we're here…
Emerging Tech

From flying for fun to pro filmmaking, these are the best drones you can buy

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

Healthy mice born from two genetic mothers using stem cells, gene editing

Healthy mice have been born from two genetics mothers and later went on to bear healthy offspring of their own, according to a recent paper published by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Emerging Tech

Light-swallowing room promises Call of Duty fans the blackest of ops

What's it like to be in a room fully painted with the world's darkest material, Vantablack? The makers of one of the year's top video games teamed up with Vantablack scientists to find out.
Emerging Tech

Japanese scientists are chewing over an ‘electric gum’ that never loses flavor

Researchers at Japan's Meiji University may have found the secret to unlimited chewing gum -- and it just involves zapping your tongue with electricity. Here's what makes it all work.
Smart Home

Vector, the engaging Alexa-like robot, is ready to roam around your home

Anyone who has ever watched Short Circuit or WALL-E has surely dreamed about having a robot buddy come live with them. Finally, that dream is now a reality. It's name is Vector, and it's available now.
Emerging Tech

Ekster 3.0 lets you ask, ‘Alexa, where did I leave my wallet?’

Ekster's newest smart wallet is its best yet. It's slimmer than ever, boasts a neat card-dispensing mechanism, and will even let you know where it is, thanks to smart speaker integration.
Emerging Tech

Johns Hopkins’ lab-grown human retina could lead to big insights

Scientists from Johns Hopkins University have successfully grown human retina tissue from scratch in a lab. The work could help with the development of new therapeutics related to eye diseases.
Wearables

Skydio’s self-flying drone now has an Apple Watch app for flight prep

Skydio's clever R1 autonomous drone now has its own Apple Watch app, making flight preparations simpler than ever. The $2,000 flying machine is now also selling at its first retail outlet — Apple Stores in North America.
Emerging Tech

Are e-cigarettes safe? Here’s what the most recent science says

Ecigarettes are widely regarded and advertised as a healthier alternative to cigarettes for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit. How safe are these cigarette alternatives? We went deep into the recent scientific literature to…
Emerging Tech

Scientists created a condom that self-lubricates during sex. You’re welcome

Researchers from Boston University have invented a special coating for condoms which make them respond to bodily fluids by becoming more slippery. Here's how their new breakthrough works.