3D to be, or not to be

Posted: 09.29.08

The industry, or perhaps I should say the industries, are hurling themselves toward the newfound wonder of stereovision, which is being called 3D (not even 3D vision). 3D in the movies, 3D in games, and 3D on TV. It’s even being proposed for handheld devices.

3D for entertainment, 3D for signage, 3D for science and engineering, 3D for defense, 3D forever. We, happy consumers who will do just about anything we’re told, will now have a new fashion accessory—3D viewing glasses. We will have multiples of them, different sizes, shapes, and colors to fit the clothes we are wearing, or maybe not wearing at all considering some of the uses of 3D.

3D, of course, is not new, and to borrow a page from Kathleen’s book, it has sputtered and stopped and sputtered and stopped again due to the inability of its promoters to cross the practicality gap.

But today’s promoters and supporters tell us, yell at us, that that’s all solved now, all those problems have gone away, been resolved, and it is the new wave, the new thing, our lives will never be the same. Sound familiar? I do believe we have been promised such things before.

The powerful people cite the inevitability of this new wave. They say that just as talkies replaced silent film, and color replaced black and white, and multichannel sound replaced mono, 3D will be the way we watch all, not some, but all movies in the future, and that future is rushing towards as giant studios like Disney and DreamWorks commit to 3D 100%.

Right behind them, or maybe in synch with them, are games, PC games to be exact. PC games, modern PC games, come with a built-in advantage, they are already constructed in 3D, so getting them to display 3D vision is easier, or so we are told—there is that little issue of refresh rate and 60 Hz LCD displays, but not to worry, that will all be taken care of.

3D TV will have to wait a while as standards and displays get developed. 3D TV is theoretically possible now with high-speed DLP TVs and projectors, and high-bandwidth media like Blu-ray. So, we can don our evening wear 3D glasses, pop in the season collection of Battlestar Galactica, and bask in the joy of missiles, Vipers, and number six protruding into our living room. Once number six is projected in 3D there will be no going back.

Well, I’m still waiting for the share price of my dot-com companies to come back up to the purchase price so I can sell them and put the money back in my retirement fund. I’m not really in the market right now for the newest old best great thing. I’m not convinced the practicality gap has been crossed. One of the reasons I’m taking that position is the abundance of solutions. There are five choices of glasses. That’s three too many. We can have two types, one for movies and one for PC and TV, but not five. Before 3D is the defacto entertainment standard, it first has to get some—standards that is. It also has to overcome the chicken-egg thing of installed base of the necessary technology vs. the content. And then there’s that content issue. One of the things that killed, well I guess it didn’t kill it, but at least severely wounded 3D back in the 1950s was the awful content. And, with the exception of some of the IMAX stuff, it has remained awful, poking things out at the audience, no story, and then the ultimate eye fatigue and disorientation. One of the most recent movies the studios are raving about, Journey to the Center of the Earth, is so bad it’s amazing it got released.

Sports, on the other hand, do look good, better, and more interesting in HD and 3D. Sports, for the most part, aren’t staged, and there is no director yelling throw the ball at the camera. And sports, especially fast-paced sports like basketball and soccer (football) are especially challenging to the refresh issues, but, when they get it right, they are truly thrilling to watch.

So that’s my prediction. 3D will not become a mass consumer home entertainment vehicle for quite some time, but special-event 3D will. Special sporting events, special well-made movies, and maybe even a well-made computer game will be the market.

So don’t rush out and buy your designer 3D glasses just yet, be happy with the ones the theater loans to you for a couple of hours, which ever type they may be.

Epilog—movie director that I want to be, I have observed that the 3D effect in movies is more believable and more effective when things point into the screen, away from the viewer, rather than out and at the viewer.