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3DTV NoE - Introduction

A consortium of 19 entities, led by Bilkent University, has been working on planning and conducting a 48-month project on 3DTV. The project is funded by EC and started on 1 September 2004. The primary goal of the team is to deal with all aspects of the 3DTV in an integrated manner. The team believes that the timing is perfect in terms of technological environment and consumer attitude and needs.

The primary objective of this project is to align European researchers with diverse experience and activity in distinct, yet complementary, areas so that an effective network for achieving full scale 3D video capabilities integrated seamlessly to a more general information technology base (like internet) is established and kept functional for a long time. The project will create a highly needed synergy among the European partners, at a critical time since 3DTV related research has been significantly accelerating throughout the world, and therefore will boost the European competitiveness. Potential application areas and social impact of 3DTV will also be investigated.

Capturing three-dimensional visual information of a real-life scene and creating an exact (except the scale) optical duplicate of it at a remote site instantaneously, or at a later time, are ultimate goals in visual communications. All core and peripheral components related to this goal are collectively referred as “Three-Dimensional Television (3DTV)”. Main functional components of 3DTV are, “capture and representation of 3D scene information”, “complete definition of digital 3DTV signal”, “storage and transmission of this signal”, and finally the “display of the reproduced 3D scene”. For a successful consumer accepted operation of 3DTV, all these functional components must be carefully designed in an integrated fashion by considering the harmonious interaction among them. This kind of large-scale integration naturally involves a large group of researchers with diverse backgrounds, and therefore, has a highly multidisciplinary nature.

It is believed that the 3DTV concept is well understood by a large majority of the public. However, it is perceived as a highly futuristic mode of real-time visual communications. There are many examples of it in science-fiction type movies. Therefore, it might not be wrong to assume that the current image of 3DTV in the public perception is a “highly desirable” but “probably impossible to achieve in the foreseeable future” technological wonder.

Therefore, the reasons, which prevented such a highly desirable mode of communications from becoming a reality, should be essentially technological deficiencies. It is not too difficult to identify these missing technological building blocks; for example, lack of practical fully electronic means of 3D scene capture and 3D scene display units is probably the main complicating factor. A more careful analysis would reveal that there are many other technological components missing, and therefore, 3DTV is still not a common tool of daily life as in the case of conventional TV.

However, it is also not too difficult to see that the technological components, which are necessary to bring 3DTV into reality, have been significantly matured over the past two decades. For example, image processing algorithms have evolved to handle video data from multiple synchronous sources and can extract and match feature points from each such source; this paves the road to a successful capture of accurate 3D scene information.

Another mode of 3D scene information capture is to utilize holographic cameras which directly record information carrying interference fringes; again the technology has evolved to provide the large volume high-density electronic cells in such electronic sensing chips. Computer graphics technology has matured to provide almost all necessary tools for abstract 3D scene representation, like deformable meshes and other generic 3D motion object representation tools.Another main building block is the digital TV technology in broad sense. The last decade has witnessed many important technological jumps in that regard: major technological advances and standardization activities first gave us videoconferencing and videophone, and then made MPEG-1 (VCD) and MPEG-2 (digital TV and DVD) a reality, and eventually evolved to the most complicated intellectual property developed in the history, the MPEG-4.

The developed technological treasure is now ready to be adapted to 3D technology. Telecommunications, in general, and internet protocols in particular, paved the way to easy-to-generate/use video content which can be delivered digitally to our monitors. Streaming video know-how has developed significantly. In the meantime, major technological breakthroughs in optical display technologies have been witnessed: spatial light modulators (SLM), digital micromirror devices (DMD), acousto-optic technology and similar approaches have hinted successful electronic holographic displays. Signal processing tools are mature enough to tackle all associated fast signal conversion steps needed during the operational phases as signals are captured, processed and directed to next components of the 3DTV chain up to the display end.

Of course, the fundamental underlying technological infrastructure is the fast electronic circuitry and associated computer technology that converted computational power from a research lab luxury to a routine embedded component of all service segments and consumer appliances in multimedia communications. Looking at this picture collectively, it can be concluded that the scientific and technological environment is ripe for the important enabling step towards 3DTV. This observation is also confirmed by various already established research activities in 3DTV field in Europe (for example ATTEST), Japan and USA; an important indicator is the recent activity in MPEG-4 standardization group towards incorporating 3D objects into object-based video technology.

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