At the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles' L.A. Live
entertainment district, MTV Video Music Awards
beamed out to 6.1 million viewers across the nation. The show, hosted by Kevin Hart and featuring performances by Rihanna, L'il Wayne, Taylor Swift, Frank Ocean, Green Day, Pink and Alicia Keys with Nicki Minaj and a host of other music stars, was also fed live to the adjacent Regal Cinemas
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 6: Lil Wayne (L) and 2 Chainz perform onstage at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards at Staples Center on September 6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bucci/PictureGroup). Click image for larger view.
In the projection booth above the Regal Cinema, a Blackmagic Design
Teranex converted the 2D feed in real-time to 3D to the cinema's often rowdy audience. Having been an attentive member of that audience, I can say the results were quite credible: the 2D-to-3D conversion gave a depth of field view of the awards, without distortion or hiccups, for the entire 2-hour event.
Besides the audience members who saw the MTV show live, the only other people likely to see the Awards in its 3D converted version are a group of executives at MTV Music Group.
"We've been testing 3D, researching and developing it," says Jeff Jacobs, Senior Vice President and Executive in Charge of Production for MTV Music Group. "This was an off-air experience." The genesis for the 2D-to-3D broadcast test was two-fold. A couple of years ago, Jacobs - who is a member of the board of the Sports Video Group
- went to a SVG expo and saw a Blackmagic Design demo of the Teranex 2D-to-3D unit. "We gave them some video to convert, watched it and were very impressed with what we saw and the ease it took to produce," he says, adding that they were waiting for the right moment to use it.
Taylor Swift performs onstage at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards at Staples Center on September 6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by McCarten/PictureGroup). Click image for larger view.
That moment came when condom manufacturer Trojan
teamed up with MTV as a multi-platform sponsorship of the Video Music Awards pre-show. We at MTV enjoy terrific partnerships with sponsors," says Jacobs. "Very often we produce product integrations for our sponsor-partners that can come in many forms. When Trojan came, they said the tagline for its new product was Intensify the Experience."
With the goal of coming up with an integration that would enhance or intensify viewers' experience, the MTV Music Group executives had a creative brainstorm. "We came up with the 2D-to-3D conversion," says Jacobs. "We felt that viewing 3D as opposed to viewing 2D is in fact intensifying the viewing experience."
When called upon, Blackmagic Design was ready to set up the Teranex conversion box in the Regal Cinema's projection room. Founded almost 12 years ago, Teranex was acquired by Blackmagic Design in December 2011 and by NAB 2012
showed a prototype of a re-engineered and redesigned product.
One Direction in the press room at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards at Staples Center on September 6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kirkland/PictureGroup). Click image for larger view.
Teranex was founded by a group of Lockheed
engineers who spun off some technology to develop a very powerful video processing engine. "We kept improving the technology over the years," says Ray Conkling, Manager of Blackmagic Design's Teranex Systems. "When Blackmagic Design acquired us, that allows us to take their manufacturing and engineering capabilities and take a product that was $50,000 and now sell a completely redesigned one for $2,000. It's got the same algorithms but it's re-engineered towards a manufacturing model so that everything is very cost effective."
Blackmagic Design Teranex 3D Processor. Click image for larger view.
The 2D-to-3D conversion is based on proprietary algorithms. "We worked with human vision experts," says Conkling. "We went at it from the mindset of trying to create as much depth as possible without creating artifacts. This is for TV broadcasts, and we wanted broadcasters to feel confident that they won't make viewers uncomfortable. Many customers have said it's a very realistic looking 3D."
"A lot of other technologies try to use something that makes assumptions about 3D," he adds. "We steered away from that, because when you make assumptions you get artifacts. We look at every pixel in the image to create depth without artifacts."
More specifically, the Teranex 3D processor incorporates two video processing engines, each of which has a SIMD processing array that allows operations to occur on thousands of pixels simultaneously, along with a dedicated image warping processor that allows for complex image manipulation. "This design combination of brute force SIMD (single instruction/multiple data) processing and complex image warping, coupled with innovative image processing algorithms gives us the ability to create some pretty impressive applications," says Conkling. "One of these application is the 2D-to-3D algorithm that was utilized at the MTV VMA 3D screening."
Nicki Minaj performs onstage at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards at Staples Center on September 6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bucci/PictureGroup). Click image for larger view.
According to Conkling, as the original 2D signal was processed and analyzed in the video processing engines, synthetic left and right eye perspective images were created. The full resolution left and right stereoscopic signal was then fed into the 3D projector and displayed on-screen. In the projection booth, while one Teranex box did the 2D-to-3D conversion, another recorded both eyes on Sony
HDCAM SR tape.
At MTV, those executives will be poring over the tapes to consider their next step. "At MTV, we're always looking to further engage the viewer's experience, and we do that through online messaging, after-shows, third and fourth screen interactions," says Jacobs. "If our viewers say, we'd really like this in 3D, naturally, we'd oblige." But he is in no rush to do so. "No one would expect any broadcaster to put 3D up cold," he says. "You'd want to test it first and see if 3D lent itself to the subject matter."
Both MTV and Trojan are very happy with the results, but a precipitous 3D broadcast is not the way to go. "3D for the viewers is like HD ten years ago," he says. "Viewers didn't know they wanted HD until they saw it and fell in love with it. It's our job to sample 3D with viewers and see if they want it at home, the same way broadcasters did with HD."
"Right now, we have no plans to broadcast 3D but we're constantly talking about how to engage viewers," he adds. "The decision isn't just up to us. We could broadcast 3D from our operations center but still need partner affiliates to put it in the living rooms...and we still need viewers to go get the TV sets," he says. "But it's in the best interest of any who is a 3D broadcast enthusiast to get as much 3D content out there as possible."
In a nutshell, Jacobs encapsulates the conundrum of broadcasters and content creators interested in 3D content: a nuanced chicken-and-egg story involving an end-to-end technology infrastructure, from broadcast centers all the way to TV sets.
But 3D in the home will go nowhere without the content, which will drive consumers to ask for more. For that reason alone, MTV's foray into a live 3D broadcast is an exciting forerunner of what could become the new norm.
Title image photo: LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 6: (L-R) Kevin Hart and PSY onstage at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards at Staples Center on September 6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bucci/PictureGroup) ©2012