Will 3D Burn More Power?

March 10, 2010
The studios and HDTV vendors think 3D is the holy grail but does it conflict with the trend for greener technology?

3D digital camera

Single-lens technology

3D television was all the rage at January’s 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. There was a wide variety of products, though you may have to wait a little while before you see them at your local home entertainment store.

Viewers will need 3D glasses to enjoy many of these TVs. Some models will present 3D without the special eyewear, though there will be limits on the number of viewers or the viewing angles.

Some displays like those from Holografika don’t require glasses, nor do they have any viewing limitations. But they’re much more expensive and designed for medical environments where performance, not cost, is more important.

Displays and display drivers in conventional displays don’t draw lots of power. Yet reducing these requirements is key to most power conservation efforts because the large number of displays makes even a small power savings valuable. Mobile devices enjoy the added benefit of longer run time.

The move to 3D is going to challenge designers to continue the trend toward lower-power devices. Like many features, there’s a cost. For 3D, it comes in the form of higher computational power and possibly more complexity or higher power requirements.

The difference between 2D and 3D is not a factor of two. Likewise, many new features such as 240-Hz refresh rates make 3D possible, enabling a 3D refresh rate that’s 50% lower than other technologies.

While 3D will grow in the consumer space, it is well established in areas such as 3D CAD. Applications such as SolidWorks already support 3D displays, which are often used with 3D pointing devices.

Like 3D gaming, 3D CAD already handles 3D images and essentially converts them to 2D when it’s limited to a 2D display. The impact of new 3D displays will likely be significant for SolidWorks users.


Similar challenges occur on the content creation side. Fujifilm’s FinePix Real 3D W1 digital camera (Fig. 1) uses a pair of 10-Mpixel sensors mounted on both sides of its front. It can take 2D and 3D stills and movies. The 3D stills use the MPO or MPI+JPEG formats, while the video uses a stereo AVI format. A specialized 3D processor incorporated into the electronics handles 3D filming.

Storage issues affect performance primarily because 3D requires twice the amount of information in its raw form. For example, the 3D and high-speed 2D continuous still modes are limited to a lower resolution to reach the 2-frame/s 3D and 3-frame/s 2D high-speed modes. Video is limited to 640 by 480 pixels or 320 by 240 pixels.

Computational issues and their corresponding power requirements also arise when comparing 2D and 3D. For example, 2D real-time options include face recognition with red eye removal and framing guidelines. Features such as these tend to be significantly more complicated in 3D.

Even more impressive is the incorporation of a 3D display on the back of the camera and support for 3D printing. Both utilize a lenticular covering over the LCD or paper for 3D viewing without the need for 3D glasses. The approach has limitations with respect to viewing angle and depth, but these issues are more easily accommodated when only a single person is viewing the display or photograph.

The FinePix Real 3D W1 supports macro mode for 2D only, but its 3x optical zoom works for 2D and 3D. This can be a challenge with separate imagers since the optic movements need to be coordinated. Multiple zoom motor support is more costly in terms of power and hardware compared to a single-lens 2D system, but it’s a necessity with this 3D technique. Precision engineering and a solid aluminum die cast frame were necessary to make this approach work.

Sony takes a different tack with its single-lens technology (Fig. 2). Its sensors are placed behind the lens with a mirror splitting and routing system. Sony’s methodology has significant advantages considering the changeable lenses often found on higher-end cameras and camcorders.

The amount of power needed to control an optical zoom is the same as with a conventional camera. However, the requirements for the multiple sensors and their support remain the same.

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