3D Is the Future. Any Questions?

It’s getting to the point where you can’t walk outside or go online without seeing something about the latest in 3D technology. It’s official: three-dimensional video is the newest tech fad.

A lot of upcoming movies are being done in 3D. Step Up 3D, Yogi Bear, and a recently-announced project: a Justin Bieber biopic. Yes, it’s all the three-dimensionality of special effects with all the one-dimensionality of Justin Bieber. Hollywood is even using it to pump up classic movies. Beauty and the Beast is being converted into 3D, along with the original Star Wars trilogy.

But that’s not all! 3D technology is being used to remake classic films, the most interesting of which I would argue is the planned Disney re-imagining of none other than the Beatles’ classic Yellow Submarine.

However, not all movie directors are eager to give their films an extra dimension. J.J. Abrams, Star Trek director, says the glasses make everything look dim; Joss Whedon, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator, says he refuses to work in 3D; and Jon Favreau, director of the Iron Man franchise, decided against filming Cowboys & Aliens in 3D.

We also know that 3D video gaming is inevitable, what with the 3DS and the rumored PS3D. But not all video game designers are jumping onto this bandwagon. Developer Naughty Dog (Jak and Daxter series, Uncharted) hasn’t exactly been that enthusiastic about creating 3D games. A Naughty Dog spokesperson said they would consider making games in 3D “if it fits.”

Most other companies, of course, are enthusiastic about making 3D gaming a reality. Some are even going back and, yes, remaking games for 3D. The Sly Cooper series, by Sucker Punch Productions, is being re-released this fall for the PS3 with updated 3D graphics and more mini-games.

Sony has been pushing 3D technology a while now. A few months ago, when they released the Bravia 3DTV, they threw 4 3D PS3 games into the mix.

Now, like myself, you might laugh and think, “Yeah, but this is a fad, remember? Fads die. No one’s going to care about 3D in a few years.”

Yes, but that’ll be because someone will have discovered virtual reality by then.

The truth is that 3DTVs are probably going to become commonplace within the next few years. A research analyst at Parks Associates predicts that by 2014, “80% of the TVs sold in the U.S. will be 3D-ready.” Market research group DisplaySearch claims that by the time we get to that point, 43 million 3DTVs will have been sold.

However, a top marketing boss at game developer Ubisoft thinks those figures aren’t high enough. He thinks that in just three years, by 2013, everyone will have a 3DTV.

Some people have been skeptical of this idea from the start. An article on Yahoo Finance from January argues that people are going to find it too inconvenient to purchase 3D glasses and distribute them amongst their family and friends when they watch a big sports game or something like that.

The problem with this argument is that you could have made it for pretty much any new piece of technology in the past. I’m sure business analysts were saying that Blu-Ray was a waste so long as people had HD. HD wasn’t enough, Blu-Ray offered more. People want the next best thing.

Also, we need to keep in mind that technology is going to keep advancing. Sooner or later, someone is going to figure out a way to watch movies or TV or video games in 3D without glasses. I know this because the technology already exists.

The Nintendo 3DS, to be released later this year, lets you play games in 3D without the need for glasses. The 3DS utilizes something called a parallax barrier, which is basically a thin lens fitted onto the screen that allows you to see depth when you move it around. To give you a better understanding of how this works, here’s a demo video:

Microsoft is also trying this same method of glasses-free 3D, using a complex viewer-tracking system where, with the help of a small lens, controlled light connects your eyes in such a way that you can see the 3D images naturally.

The 3D technology being used by Nintendo and Microsoft is basically an incredibly sophisticated version of a lenticular print. Lenticular prints create images with different depths, so when you move your head, you see different images. The concept is a simple one, so these companies are taking it and applying it to depth perception of moving images. (I suppose, by extension, this means that at least by 2050, we will have Star Wars 3D hologram technology.)

The parallax barriers being used by the 3DS make sense for handheld video game consoles, but not for large TVs. Some TV companies have created monitors with such barriers so you can watch the images in 3D without the need for glasses. There’s just one tiny flaw: you have to be standing in a certain position in order to see it. If you’re watching the screen at an angle, chances are you’re just going to see a big blur.

That’s why Microsoft’s approach is the one TV manufacturers should be taking their cues from. In order for the specialized lens to control how your eyes see the different lights, a 3D camera keeps track of your face and where your eyes are pointed, and adjusts the light controls thusly.

Most movie companies will no doubt try to capitalize on this trend, because, let’s face it, they’re not doing this for our entertainment; it’s all about money. And these titans of industry are smart. They know movie theaters aren’t going to sustain them forever. That’s why Time Warner proposed “Home Theater on Demand” back in May. If you want to read more about the details of the proposal, you can check out this Tech tAUk blog post I wrote back when the news came out.

Looking back on that post and factoring in what we now know about this 3D trend, I would say that it’s now more likely the big studios will focus more on getting their movies to TVs. Movie theaters are, unless the dynamics change drastically, doomed to be an afterthought. Not every movie theater will give you the chance to watch a film in 3D, but if you have a 3DTV at home, you’ll be able to order a movie on demand and watch it at your leisure.

People can argue that 3D is dying down. This article suggests that our “love affair” with 3D is ending because Avatar was seen by more people than How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek Forever After, or Despicable Me. There is a perfectly good explanation for this that has nothing to do with 3D: the latter films were not nearly as hyped as Avatar was.

Some people are going to like 3D, some (like Roger Ebert) are going to be against it no matter what. But given the public’s insatiable need for new and exciting things, it’s inevitable. Even Adobe Flash is working on new 3D graphic tools. And a rumor tossed around a few months ago suggests that Apple’s working on iSpecs, a special pair of 3D glasses that you can hook an iPod to and watch movies with.

Everyone’s jumping on the 3D bandwagon, 3DTVs are selling like hotcakes, and companies are now developing 3D camcorders. Face it: 3D is the future.

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One thought on “3D Is the Future. Any Questions?

  1. Oh dear gosh. I do hope that 3D is not going to be the future. It’s nothing more than a big gimmick to get you to plop down yet another couple hundred bucks on a new screen, plus more greenbacks on these creepy glasses things. And besides, the whole thing is just too creepy overall.

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