F E AT U R E
the earlier system that depended on red and green filters to create the stereoscopic image. And the technology occurs in the digital domain, so it is convincing, free of distracting artefacts and completely effective in creating the sensations of stage depth; of objects flying toward or away from you. While some could argue that the main reason Avatar is now the highest-grossing film in history might be due to the phenomenal amount of publicity and hype, which created unprecedented levels of curiosity, the point is moot. Gimmick or not, the film’s success proved that consumers want that same buzz in the home. But Avatar alone is not enough to inspire the public to commit to 3D in large numbers. For the format to establish itself, exciting titles in the hundreds, along with key broadcasts such as major sporting events, are needed to sustain interest. All of this will prove mutually beneficial to the two forces behind 3D. The hardware suppliers will be selling new displays and Blu-ray players, while Hollywood will be selling new discs. Cable and satellite suppliers will profit, too, as the highdefinition set-top boxes are already in place, such as those for Sky+HD in the UK. These are said to be “3D-ready” without any changes to the set-top boxes themselves. Although the focus for 3D in the home has centred on discs played back via Blu-ray, broadcast materials will prove crucial, especially the aforementioned sporting events, live concerts and other attractions that will complement a steady flow of
PRE S TI G e
cinema fare. How quickly Hollywood can produce new movies to the 3D standards of Avatar remains to be seen, though Alice In Wonderland, and a reworked Toy Story 2, will be out in time to accompany the entry of 3D hardware into the home. And timing is crucial. LCD and plasma displays took off so quickly that most homes acquired them fast enough for sales to have started levelling off by 2009. The electronics giants want us back in the stores, and 3D has precisely the pizzazz to do it. How the public reacts to needing both new screens and new Blu-ray players so soon after buying their first flat screens and DVD players may depend entirely on what 3D material is available. Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Samsung and nearly every other flat-display producer have 3D-compatible screens waiting in the wings, while the “next generation” Blu-ray players should appear in tandem. Sony’s Technical Marketing Manager in Great Britain, Eric Kingdon, confirmed that the rollout of 3D wares will occur from the end of the first quarter of 2010 onward, suggesting that by Christmas, 3D will be on everyone’s “wants” list. Samsung announced that it will launch 3D-enabled TVs in the UK as early as March 2010, followed by North America, the company promising that all of its high-end sets will be 3D-capable. Like Sony, Samsung will also manufacture 3D-compatible Blu-ray players, while it is believed that both players and screens will come with the required 3D glasses. All systems will depend on these 3D glasses, which the screen
must “talk to,” the signal from the display determining the way the glasses’ “active shutters” synchronise to process the signal. But, content will remain more of a problem than hardware in the short term: how many 3D movies exist that can be ported over to current 3D technology? From the format’s debut we will see 3D Blu-ray movies from the likes of Disney and DreamWorks, with the soccer World Cup being broadcast in 3D too. According to industry sources, Monsters vs Aliens may be the first Blu-ray 3D title, though Avatar on Blu-ray will surely be the format’s first seller to ape the sales on plain ol’ DVD of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series. Hollywood will address any lack of material as quickly as possible, and there are rumours of computer technology that can render all 2D films in 3D. Other concerns may prove more problematic, such as how 3D is not realistic when compared with the way we see depth in real life, that it’s tiring for more than the length of a feature film, or that it only works convincingly with extravaganzas, sport and animation. It begs the question: do you really want to see a talk show in 3D? A source that may prove to be 3D’s salvation is yet another type of material entirely: computer gaming. Those who have used the hands-on sporting games with the Wii system, as well as most “first person shooters,” will recognise how much 3D can add to the experience. As gamers are already accustomed to wearing headphones or other types of goggles, 3D facewear won’t be an issue. What the industry must not do is view 3D through rose-coloured glasses, however compatible. When polled after the trade-only Consumer Electronics Show as to what they’d like to see in 2011, the majority of those professionals asked the question answered: “3D without goggles!” Sadly, such technology is not commercially viable, so glasses-free 3D simply will not happen in the foreseeable future.
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