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By their nature, it is easy to assume the Zeiss Cinemizer OLED 3D glasses are just for personal entertainment—gaming and unobtrusively enjoying movies, or as a portable alternative to a TV or projection system. But Zeiss wants you to think of them as something much more: a distributive technology redefining the way digital imagery is displayed.
If, in your head, you're asking what the cinemizer is, you might want to first take a look at our in-house product review, here. If you prefer not to read the review, then you'll just have to take my word for it when I promise these are not just a pair of sunglasses some silly person thought would be funny to spray-paint white. In fact, they are a complete 3D-viewing system that happens to be not much bigger or bulkier than a pair of sunglasses. Producing what Zeiss asserts is a 40" equivalent diagonal image viewed at 6 ½ feet, the glasses feature earbuds that tuck away under the frame, and plug into just about anything that outputs 3D over HDMI—be it smartphone, Blu-ray player, computer, camcorder, etc. Plus, they work with 2D too, and there is a breakout cable included for connecting legacy Composite sources as well.
Make no mistake: it is clear that gamers are a large percentage of Zeiss's target market. The Cinemizer features an accessory called the Headtracker, which does, well, pretty much what you'd expect it to—it tracks head movements. Connected to your computer or mobile device via USB, the Headtracker itself is driverless in the sense a keyboard or mouse is driverless. For many games this means you get functionality out of the box, in particular, for games that use mouse inputs to control where your avatar is looking. Additionally, Zeiss provides an SDK game developers can use to create VR-oriented interactivity that is much more tailored to the Cinemizer.
Don't want other passengers to see what you are watching on a long commute or flight? The Cinemizer boasts up to 6 hours of battery life (though 2 to 3 hours is probably more realistic) so a pair of these glasses seems the perfect solution. They provide an alternative way of watching movies in 3D, with some advantages over a 3D TV or projector. In particular, you don't have to worry about the often sub-optimal viewing angles encountered in many of our real-world living rooms. Bad viewing angles, notoriously, are something that can wreak havoc with passive 3D systems, especially those using linear polarizers as filters. Not to mention you have to wear glasses no matter what, when viewing 3D, so why not make the solution self-contained? When it comes to home theater and personal entertainment, the virtues of wearable tech mostly sell themselves.
But what about some of the more novel applications one could devise?
FPV is a big one Zeiss itself is heavily promoting. What is FPV? It stands for "First Person View," and it is bit of jargon pulled from the lexicon of RC aircraft hobbyists. In layman's terms, FPV flying means mounting a small camera on your multi-copter, drone, or airplane and relaying a live feed from it back to the ground end. The pilot then has some kind of monitor to enable a bird's-eye perspective from the aircraft, as though he were in the air himself.
To accomplish the viewing part, most FPV setups use a field monitor—a small video monitor usually between 5 and 7 inches in size—mounted somehow on the radio controller (confusingly known as "transmitter" in RC lingo). Some even link up directly to a smartphone, but in this case, are limited by the range of Wi-Fi and tend to have higher latency, that is, delay between what the camera sees and what shows up on screen. Not only are small monitors less immersive and harder to see any detail on, they are far from ideal for use outdoors in sunlight. You need something like 1,000 nits or more for reliable viewing in sunlight; most monitors used by hobbyists, however, pump out less than 300 nits. And since most FPV cameras don't have night vision, chances are you will being flying on a good day with high visibility, i.e., a bright, sunny day.
The Cinemizer glasses are ideal because they seal he space around your eyes with a removable gasket (sold separately from the glasses) that pretty much blocks out all ambient light. Of course, you will have to be thoroughly familiar with your radio controller (transmitter)'s layout. Otherwise, you'll be pulling the Cinemizers up every time you need to find a stick or button.
So now you're probably thinking, Can I get the FPV experience in 3D? They are 3D glasses, after all.
In theory, you could, although off-the-shelf solutions may seem a bit hard to come by at the moment. EMR Labs currently offers a camera, the 3D-Cam FPV, made for this purpose. It works in conjunction with a special encoder so that a single, conventional composite video transmitter can be used to broadcast what the EMR website intimates is field-sequential 3D. The Transporter 3D, another product of theirs, can then used to convert the composite output of the transmitter back into HDMI 3D. Otherwise, if you are serious about doing it yourself, you are looking at a baroque arrangement and some serious hacking to to get an air-based system working. You would need two cameras—hopefully synced with genlock—probably two separate HDMI transmitters that somehow don't interfere with each other at such close proximity, and an AC-powered device at the ground end to mix the signals from the left and right camera.
Another place the Cinemizer might see application is as a field monitor on a video shoot, not surprising since Zeiss is perhaps best known for making cinema lenses. Zeiss probably isn't ready to replace the camera operator’s viewfinder, EVF, or field monitor just yet, since it lacks key focus assist and calibration features. For single-operator jib setups, though, where there is no focus pulling taking place, it does beat a monitor in the sense it stays with you, whereas a field monitor clamped onto the jib might not always give you the best angle as you raise and lower the jib arm. And it could serve as a handy secondary monitor for the director or other members of the production team, especially in setups where light cast by a normal production monitor could interfere with scene lighting or cause reflections.
On 3D shoots, the Cinemizer would provide a quick way to get a sense of how the 3D aspect looks.
Since professional 3D shoots use two separate cameras to capture 3D, you would need to first convert the two SDI streams from each camera to two HDMI streams, then take these two streams and mix them into a single 3D HDMI signal. Luckily, the need for inexpensive 3D monitoring solutions is recognized by mini converter makes, and there are now all-in-one solutions that do just that.
3D pre-visualization is being used for just about everything these days. Not just in architecture, but increasingly in product development, as well. CAD (Computer Aided Design) was one of the first applications to use computer-generated 3D images, but the fruits of so much rendering labor has almost always been viewed in mundane 2D. Now, when using CAD software that supports 3D displays, we can view 3D pre-visualizations in 3D.
The Cinemizer obviously isn't the only game in town when it comes to 3D display technologies. Computer monitors, TVs, and projectors with some means of displaying 3D are readily available. But the cinemizer is extremely handy if you need to take your demo on the road. Simply load the rendered file on your laptop, tablet, or even smartphone, and Bob's your uncle. With the Headtracker and some interested developers, a degree of interactivity within the 3D presentation becomes possible.
If the intent is to show the whole class the same, non-interactive image, then more than likely a 3D projection system will be what's called. But if a student—at least from time to time—needs to be piped a bespoke image, especially for an interactive session, or in a computer lab setting, the glasses-for-every-student concept starts to make a little more sense. It's simpler than putting a monitor at each desk, and is ideal for such things as virtual field trips, exploration of anatomy, historical visualizations, and kindred types of proto-VR.
More than the technologies benefits, which arguably are relatively apparent, is the question of how quickly companies can deliver the software and media required to make the investment in personal 3D display systems worthwhile. To this end, Zeiss has partnered with EON Reality, a company boasting more than 15 years experience in the virtually reality content market, who have availed themselves the effort of filling this content gap.
I can't remember how long it took when I first got braces put on my teeth as a kid, but it felt like days. I remember they had a TV embedded in the ceiling and played "Peter Pan." For kids—and even adults—undergoing lengthy dental or medical procedures without the benefit of general anesthetic, headgear is perfect. Not only are they more practical than ceiling-mounted screens, they isolate the patient, helping them to take their mind off the procedure being performed.
Before concluding, it is worth considering what the Cinemizer is not. It is not a replacement for a computer monitor. At 870 x 500 pixels per eye, the Cinemizer gives you close to the same effective resolution you get with most 3D delivery methods—interleaved and side-by-side, for example—when displaying a "Full HD" (1920 x 1080) signal. This is because the overall image is halved in some way, with half the resolution going to one eye and the other half to the other. The only exception under the HDMI 1.4a specification is "frame packing," which has 2205 X 1920 total resolution per frame, including the active blanking space. Additionally, the Cinemizer uses an apparently unique four sub-pixel arrangement that minimizes pixel spacing by adhering to grid arrangement, yielding a sub-pixel density of approximately 2500 sub-pixels per square inch. On top of that, Zeiss claims brightness is boosted by doubling up on the blue sub-pixel—blue being the color our eyes are least sensitve to.
From the standpoint of video and gaming you can get something that to my eye is about as crisp as most 1080p sources in the real world. But 870 x 500 is insufficient for using modern software. These days, you pretty much need 1024 x 768 (XGA) or higher for many programs to even try to run. Since the Cinemizer up-scales the incoming video, it is possible to trick your computer into thinking there is an HD monitor plugged into it, but doing so may cause smaller text to look fuzzy. What the Cinemizer is made for is imagery: video, still images, 3D models, and so on.
It is also not going to give you virtual reality. It very much creates the effect of a screen suspended in space. The image does not spill over into your peripheral vision the way you need it to for VR (Zeiss specifies a 30-degree field of view). Partly, this is the limitation of technology—squeezing tiny monitors into a pair of sunglasses—but it also has to do with the fact that the cinemizer has to deal with images intended to be viewed on a monitor or TV; images shot or rendered under the assumption you will have an unprejudiced view of the entire frame, more or less, at all times, rather than images where you as the viewer control the camera angle.
It is fair to say there is a lot of potential out there for headworn and other display concepts that transcend the traditional flat panel or screen. Goggle-style 3D displays aren't exactly brand new—I still remember the Nintendo Virtual Boy my brother begged my parents to buy, which he then got bored with in less than a day—but what the Cinemizer demonstrates is that headgear can finally provide high resolution in a form factor that comes close to a pair of sunglasses. And it is coming out at a time when there is a fairly mature standard for 3D viewing built into the HDMI specification.
For specifications, and more technical information on the Cinemizer OLED 3D eyewear see our in-house review here.