Monday, 16 May 2011

3D: Gimmick or Progression?

3D. The third dimension in media terms can mean a number of things. It has applied to the growing number of animated films using computer generated image (CGI). In video games, the term 3d was applied to market the advancement in game graphics and technology (see titles like Duke Nukem 3D, Gex 3D etc.) In more recent years, the term has applied to the stereoscopic effect seen in cinemas. It creates the illusion of depth perception in the moving image. More films, including the aforementioned animated films, are giving viewers the option to view the film in 3D.

Now 3D is taking form in more than one visual media. The medium has found its way into some households. This has been in the form of televisions, cable/satellite providers, games consoles, and more recently cameras and camcorders. Youtube has now shown signs of 3D support. But is the world ready for this sudden advancement? Especially since most of us only recently upgraded to High Definition in the last 3-5 years.

The process is nothing new. The most common form of 3d is the where the film appears doubled-up; separating primary colours like the blues and reds. This is achieved through either a special projector, or now more commonly through CGI use in post production. The image refocuses only with the application of special glasses. This creates the depth of field effect in the image.

The effect was used in specific productions,events and theme-park attractions from as early as the 1950's. Cheesy b-movie flicks and certain horror movies come to mind. These include It Came From Outer Space (Universal, 1953) and House of Wax (Warner Bros. 1953.) It is only in the last 10 years that the medium has seen massive success. Now with massive axes flying at your face in the case of My Bloody Valentine 3D (Lionsgate, 2009.)

The modern 3D production started with the use of the massive IMAX cinemas. To begin with, the IMAX's were restricted to short hour long features shot on massive 60mm film. Hollywood eventually utilised the massive cinemas to show feature films. By doing this, future productions were made to meet the requirements of such places. One of the requirements was the compatibility or conversion to 3D. Arguably, since the success of James Cameron's Avatar has the 3D film become a commonplace in cinema. More and more films have opted for the 3D effect. Some better than others. You could argue some films are being just as tongue and cheek as earlier 3D attractions. On the whole, it seems the film industry has found a good enough stipulation for people to see films in the cinema.

Now we are seeing yet another attempt to bring the cinema home. Massive flat screen televisions have been beefed up into 3D ready flat screens. Brands such as Samsung and LG have led the charge on the new TV's. It would appear that 3D is being marketed as the new HD. The 3D TV's have been divided in two categories: Active and Passive. Active requires expensive liquid crystal shutter glasses, while passive calls for cheap circular polarized glasses. We've certainly come a long way from those paper red and blue glasses.

3D TVs are not without their issues. In some cases there have been issues with the glasses overlapping the images. A colleague of mine mentioned his first 3d TV, an early production Samsung d7000, gave off too much “Ghosting.” This is where the image is superimposed and offset, giving off a transparent replica of the same image, effectively doubling it. In my short experience with a displayed UE46d7000, I noticed the images would occasionally flicker from one eye to other. This could have been based on what I was watching, where I was sitting, or the sequential rate of what was being displayed. It may have also been down to the fact I was wearing my prescription glasses too (glasses over glasses would be at bit strange to look at.) However most of the demonstration was crystal clear.

But it's not just TV's that have been given the 3D treatment. The recent 3DS console utilises the effect with out the need for those expensive glasses. This is an auto-stereoscopic device does not require additional accessories. Modelled after the Nintendo DS lite models, this looks and feels very much like one. The major difference is the top screen has all the 3D glamour going on. Upon booting up the device, it gives a countdown to when the effect is enabled. From there you witness the Nintendo 3DS logo drop into the depth illusion. It's at this point who will start to feel your eyes cross as you focus in on what's going on. It's from here I can understand why some people may get a little queasy. Its almost like trying to go cross-eyed whilst looking at something up close. Lucky, there is a filter to adjust the amount of 3D depth you want to see.

Once again Nintendo has made a games console based on one major unique selling point. Before it was the touch screen of the DS, or the motion sensor technology of the Wii. Now we are seeing the company has caught up with the desires of some futurists out there. But with a limited selection of games on offer, we have yet to know of the console's lasting appeal. There are a couple of games that have my interest. These include upcoming remakes of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Metal Gear Solid 3.

So far we have two major mediums that have mesmerised their way into retailers. 3D broadcasts are already being transmitted with certain programmes. And there is a small but growing amount a 3D enabled movies being fitted on blu-ray disk. The same can be said for the games industry. As well as the 3DS, Certain PS3 and Xbox 360 titles (such as Crysis 2) have settings built in to make them 3Dtv ready.

What more can we expect down the line? Recently Sony launched the HDR-TD10 camcorder and the MHS-FS3 Bloggie 3D HD camera. These two devices feature twin lenses in their design to provide the depth necessary to replicate the 3D effect. Both devices feature an HDMI out and playback and compatibility on 3D TV's. So far I've seen video clips of standard things like people's pets in 3D. These can be found on youtube (glasses will be required.) The company also has plans to utilise the 3D effect in its new range of Vaio laptops. Imagine searching for your picture files or using the internet with that added dimension.

From what we have seen so far, the 3D movement seems to be a serious one. Once it was only a small attraction. Now 3D is definitely trying to find it's place among the people. First it was a small cinema delight, now the medium is being made to be a little more intimate for you and me. But it is still in its early stages, only just reaching your nearest department store without yet being commonplace.

Are we ready to be dizzied by the wonderful illusion of 3d tech in our everyday use? Or is it purely a gimmicky option for those who are tired with boring, flat 2d? With a limited amount of 3D games and film available on the retail market, it may be too soon to tell. Plus I've only just managed to grab my own 32inch LG HDTV. Does that make me behind the times a little?

John, CeX UK Contributor.
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