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Projection Trends: 3D and Education

For years, 3D projection has been seemed a technology long on potential but short on practicality. New prototypes appeared at trade shows year after year, and, while they were drool-worthy, manufacturers just couldn't pull 3D into the production stage. But all that has changed ... and in a huge way.

3D is here, now, and it's surprisingly accessible for a technology this early in the adoption cycle. One of the companies giving 3D a major push is Texas Instruments. Early in 2007, TI began shipping a new chipset, used for DLP's color wheel technology, in its DLP projectors. This year, TI released new firmware upgrade that, when applied to those post-2007 projectors, become 3D enabled.

If that isn't accessible and affordable enough, at this year's InfoComm, projector manufacturers introduced extremely low-priced DLP projectors--even a 2,500-lumen DLP for less than $550. So while DLP projectors can be upgraded to accommodate 3D, buying a new projector may cost less than paying a technician to travel, install firmware and travel back.

So how does 3D fit in with today's education technologies? To find out, Campus Technology's Denise Harrison posed the questions to one of the experts--Chris Chinnock.

Chinnock is founder and president of Insight Media, an emerging display consultancy and board member of the 3D@Home Consortium, an industry-led organization dedicated to the rapid commercialization of 3D.

Denise Harrison: What has been the evolution of 3D in education?

Chinnock: Modeling astrophysics or fluid dynamics or weather systems takes super computers--typically at university centers. To output this data with lots of pixels in 3D requires a very high end display (visualization) system. Desktop and conference room solutions have existed too, but the new wave is a new class of DLP projector that is being aimed at mainstream ... education markets. At InfoComm, we saw new products from Sharp, BenQ, Optoma, ViewSonic, and Mitsubishi, with some offering products as low as $649 for the education market (plus the cost of glasses and content). To open up the mainstream education market, we will need a lot more content, which will start to flow, I think.

Harrison: What are the applications using 3D technologies the most now?

Chinnock: The more obvious ones are anatomy, biology, astronomy, etc. But technical schools for showing engine design and maintenance are obvious too. Once Pandora's Box is opened, I think there will be a lot of creative uses of 3D in the classroom.

Harrison: Which additional applications will use it in the future?

Chinnock: 3D Excel charts.

Harrison: What are the benefits of 3D in education? (At the risk of stating the obvious, perhaps there is something here we need to share with campus technology executives.)

Chinnock: Some topics are just easier to teach if you can visualize it in 3D.... 3D may also be more helpful in engaging students and can create a marketing value proposition for the school.

Harrison: What are the different technologies currently vying for market share?

Chinnock: Two projector solutions can be crafted using LCD, LCOS, or DLP technology. These can feature polarization methods to separate the two images at the eye (and at the projector) or spectral filtering methods. If you want a single projector solution that works by doubling the frame rate to 120 Hz (60 Hz/eye), the only solution today is DLP. These require active shutter glasses to open and shut the electronic filter in front of each eye in synchronization with the L/R eye images.

Harrison: Who are the major manufacturing players driving the current trends and what roles are they playing?

Chinnock: New education players noted above. They are working with content creators to enable more use in the classroom.

Harrison: Which of those have the best chances of sticking in higher education? And why?

Chinnock: I think all of them see education and these 3D projectors as a big new opportunity, so all should aggressively focus on this. Hard to say which ones will be here in three years, however.

Harrison: What are the roadblocks of 3D's adoption in education?

Chinnock: Content and the cost of 3D active shutter glasses. Who will pay for it?

Harrison: Assuming standards was one of the answers, where are we with standardization?

Chinnock: Standards may be an issue, particularly with content format standards. There are also many ways to do 3D, but right now, single DLP using the DLP Link protocol for the shutter glasses control looks to be in the driver's seat.

Harrison: Anything else?

Chinnock: We need to educate the education community about the technology, the options, the content availability and the benefits. This will take some time and effort (but you are now starting it!)

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