Back in June of 2009, on the heels of the 3D motion picture boom, Youtube.com quietly rolled out 3D video support on its site. The ability to support videos utilizing the 3rd dimension was made possible by a lone programming engineer who developed the software in his spare time. However, this feature has gone fairly unnoticed; Probably due in part to the fact that very few people have the capabilities to shoot and edit 3D movies or watch them on their home computer.
In September of 2011 Youtube changed all of that by adding a new, interesting feature to the site: a 2D-to-3D video converter. Youtube can now take any old movie shot in traditional 2D and convert it to 3D. Moreover, the process is free, fast, and simple to use. All you have to do is select the “Edit Info” button for any video you have uploaded to Youtube, click the “3D Video” button, then choose “Please make this video 3D.”
Youtube will take some time to analyze the video, and when it is completed you will be able to watch your movie in 3D. A new icon will appear at the bottom right corner of the video and provide you several options for 3D viewing. These include red/cyan tinting, green/magenta tinting, blue/yellow tinting, interleaved, a cross-eyed glassesless option (which I couldn’t get to work), and HTML5 stereo view.
So how good is the 2D-to-3D converter? To be honest the 3D shift ranges from pretty good in some shots to nearly unnoticeable in others; Never great. You can check out a sample by viewing our Production Reel. To create the 3D effect in 2D videos the converter performs some pretty complex tasks which essentially boil down to this. It first separates each frame of the video into two images and offsets them slightly. This creates a parallax which attempts to mimic the way we observe the world through two optic inputs (our eyes). It then analyzes differences in brightness, contrast, and movement to determine the relative positions of objects within the frame and adjusts the parallax accordingly for those objects to make them appear nearer or farther away. In our sample reel you can see that scenes with bright lights or sunlight appear “deeper” than scenes shot in the dark. The crisp edges of the objects in bright light offer strong references for the converter, while the soft shading in darkness gives the program little to work with.
It seems clear that this program is not intended to replace multi-cam 3D productions. However, it does offer a neat and innovative way for the average consumer to get in on the 3D boom. It will be exciting to see how Youtube continues to improve this technology and what sorts of applications it might have in the future.