I love 3D.

My first 3D rig in about 2002 used a pair of e-Dimensional wireless 3D glasses in front of a 19″ CRT monitor. It used a special nVidia driver to pump out the interlaced frames, a custom 15-pin CRT cable that split out the sync signal, and an IR transmitter that sent that sync signal to the glasses. Games looked great but the CRT maxed out at 85hz or 42.5hz per eye, which led to headaches. The glasses were expensive, uncomfortable, had small shutter lenses, didn’t fit well over prescription glasses, and would occasionally cut out. So I shelved the project, waiting for a better solution.

The 3D TVs being sold today are just a reboot of this 10 year old technology, just shinier and built into the TVs themselves. All the old problems still exist – they are clunky, non-prescription-friendly glasses, it is line-of-sight and the glasses require batteries so they can cut out easily, and shuttering leads to low frame rate and headaches. Its not much of a step forward, and I don’t want it.

I want to build something similar to what you get in the theater – a polarized dual source projection system.

You take two HD projectors, where one projector gets the left eye signal and the other gets the right eye signal. Each projector has a piece of polarized glass in front of the lens, oriented to match the left or right eye. Since both projectors are always projecting their current frame, you get the full refresh speed of each DLP projector in each eye. You need a special screen that reflects the light without messing up the polarization, but these screens look great and act normally when projecting 2D content. You do need the oversized 3D glasses like you get in the theater, but that’s a topic for another post.

I got excited again when Tom’s Hardware published an great article on the subject about a month ago. Their article is impressive, and even gives links for sourcing the materials you need. Its not easy or cheap, but they make it less scary in that they succeeded on a modest budget.

Then the powers at the MPAA got their way with the FCC and changed the game.

Some background: If a movie is ever on an old style RCA, S-Video cable, or component cable, then that analog video signal can be plugged into anything, including recording devices. After playing with all sorts of schemes to degrade or lock these analog video sources, the RIAA gave up and decided the only way to control what people can do with their movies was to make everything encrypted digital content. They went so far as to dub everything that had come before as the “analog loophole”, and it was their mission to close this hole.

Fortunately the FCC stepped in and prevented the cartel from making everyone’s old DVD players, VCRs, and TVs not work with new equipment and content. Until last week. The FCC has said that the MPAA can turn on “selectable output control”, which is a euphemism  for not letting you use analog outputs or non-encrypted digital outputs. At the moment the decision is limited to pre-release movies but I don’t expect that narrow view to last long.

The rig I want to build relies on taking a single 3D signal and splitting it into two discrete signals.  If the data is either analog or not encrypted, then I can do this. If it is encrypted end-to-end then I simply can’t. Because of the new MPAA authority my whole 3D system may not be able to play new release 3D content.  I’d still be able to play 3D games, but what’s the point in putting it into the living room if it doesn’t do 3D movies?

Some day a company is going to build my dream projector. The DLP will use pre-polarized LED light. It will contain both a left and right projector in the same housing. It will include a camera for self calibration and auto focus. It will have a unified set of inputs and will conform to the HDMI 3D specs. It will be authorized as a secure selectable output. I can only dream for now because a product like this isn’t going to show up in the market for years. Until then I’m sticking with my current home entertainment system and I’ll skip this generation of DIY 3D. Damn.

Thank you, MPAA.