The Shape Of Things To Come: Is 3D Around For the Long Haul? 
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Written by Thomas Spurlin   
Thursday, 06 May 2010

Draw Curtains

Like vampire novels or a seasonal sandwich at your local deli, harking to the famed Nietzsche/Peter Pan/Battlestar Galactica quote “all of this has happened before, and will happen again”, 3D technology seems to crawl back into the pop culture spotlight once every ten or so years.  And why not? It’s fun to go to the movie theater, strap on the glasses, and watch as a barrage of things fly in your direction.  The entire concept behind three-dimensional usage swings on the immersion experienced by the people planted in those seats, something that has, naturally, improved as technology has improved – with the likes of IMAX 3D consistently cutting the tech’s teeth through somewhat under-the-radar exhibitions.  However, a few pieces have been put in motion that threaten to bring the technology much more into the mainstream, such as a few rather large Hollywood bigwigs showing interest in using the tech for artistic purposes and a motion to put full-on 3D devices in the home.  The reign of plastic, white-rimmed glasses with flimsy blue and red lenses has come to an end, and a way has been paved for something new.

James CameronWhile watching television the other day, I saw an advertisement for 3D highlights from the Masters Golf Tournament – since the event itself was broadcast in the medium.  We’re not talking about a Pixar animated film like Up, a quick-conversion job like the hoopla in Alice in Wonderland, or the stunning usage of the tech in James Cameron’s Avatar.  Instead, that experience focuses on watching guys stand straight, rear a metal rod back, and gently hit a riveted ball from one patch of greenery to another on a serene course.  No alien beings bouncing across the screen. Just golf. Now, my family’s full of avid golf fans, so the prospect of actually feeling like we’re in Augusta for the Masters while not physically being there steps into pretty cool territory.  However, we’re talking about strapping on a pair of high-quality goggles for the experience in watching Phil Mickelson land a chip shot.  That’s not a popcorn event, but more of a very practical use of the technology.  Novel? Yes. Gimmicky, still? Sure.

Is it, though, just a gimmick gaining a wider breadth of attention, or have we reached a point where it’s going to really stick around?  That’s unsure at this point; the truth, however, is that the heavy-hitter companies are moving to make it stick around.  At Atlanta’s CEDIA conference in 2009 , it became clear that the consumer market would soon endure an onslaught of 3D technology.  Around every corner, whether you were turning into Panasonic’s boisterous trailer rig, Sony’s open-aired displays, or Mitsubishi’s stalwart DLP section, you couldn’t really dodge an opportunity to try on a pair of high-end polarized glasses and experience either swimming fish, Universal’s Coraline, or a host of other jump-out programs – and eager reps ready to get those goggles over eyes.  The simple fact is that there’s a lot of money at play in utilizing the technology, and a lot of interested parties, tech heads and families alike, are ready to take the dive.

Initiatives to rope in interested have started to pop into mainstream consumer-driven eyesight, too.  As of late, advertisements for Samsung’s new 55” LED television, the UN55C7000, have started to pique the common market’s interest with promises of replicating the movie experience at home. Images of marine organisms – manta rays, fish, and the like -- flying at the screen and promises of Paramount’s Monsters vs. Aliens coming to life in your living room make one, at the very least, highly curious as to how the experience translates.  Though I haven’t had the experience in giving Samsung’s LED panel a spin in the home quite yet, I have experienced several different models from a slate of companies offering the tech and high-end glasses – and the execution’s there.  Sure, the quality varies between models and price ranges, but on a whole the technology’s ready for wider, more regular saturation.

What tech and home media enthusiasts should bear in mind is that 3D technology doesn’t just stop at movies, or broadcast television.  Multi-dimensional gaming has also been receiving some momentum, initiated for this current generation of gaming consoles with the Playstation 3.  A recent firmware update, v.3.30 (link), slapped the software capacity for “stereoscopic” games onto the machine, though a game that utilizes full-fledged usage of the three-dimensional interactivity isn’t quite on the horizon.  It’s worth noting that Sony’s also making an initiative towards motion control much like Nintendo’s Wii system, entitled Playstation Move. 

Playstation Move

Looking at these parts separately, they don’t seem all that innovative; however, combining 3D technology in games and Move’s interactivity spells out something familiar: virtual reality. Granted, it’s not full-throttle virtual reality, but a workable version in the home.  And older games, just like movies, can be converted for the tech, just not to great quality specs.

Of course, to make all that happen, it’ll also take the gear to view it. We’ve seen what faux-3D looks like over the years, even recently with Universal’s Blu-ray of Henry Selick’s animated picture Coraline.  Thankfully, the Blu-ray also contained an impeccable rendering of the film in its flat variety, because the green-and-purple analglyph 3D was atrociously handled there.  That’s because a simple disc and flimsy glasses aren’t the components needed.  It comes down to pairing up a capable television – almost guaranteed to be a 120hz panel – with a capable Blu-ray player or broadcast channel.  Along with the Playstation 3’s updated status, Samsung and other companies will be throwing out 3D-capable Blu-ray decks over the next year.  And, while it’s quite a ways away and will likely incur a form of premium, the likes of Discovery and ESPN are reportedly going to be launching 3D versions of their channels in the near future. To make it all work, however, will require a healthy investment in a new panel and deck.

Yes, that hurts.  But it’s worth considering since upgrading your equipment to these 3D-capable devices also drags along up-to-date technology with the home theater revamp.  Samsung’s 55” LED might tout 3D as its primary draw, but it’s also an ultra-thin (1.1”) panel that sports a 6,000,000:1 contrast ratio, 240hz motion technology for those interested (which, those who read my articles and reviews regularly already know, it’s not my cup of tea outside of the enhancement offered to Blu-ray’s 24fps movement), and the ability to access Netflix/Blockbuster’s streaming services directly from the panel. 

Samsung 3D

Similar earmarks also come with Blu-ray players with 3D capacity.  So it’s not as if the money tossed at a new set, sitting at a healthy $3,300 bucks, will go directly to feeding the Avatar-infused machine barreling through modern media.  It will, however, give you the option to either indulge in that experience at home again – or bypass the theater and its escalated ticket prices in the first place.  

Reminding you about the added earmarks on the 3D tech’s devices isn’t an attempt to “sell” the technology, by any stretch.  Quite the contrary, actually, because those things should be kept in mind as remnants if, or when, this full-throttled gimmick begins to lose steam -- which, just as it has in past spats, will likely fritter away with time.   But, as mentioned several times already, there’s more to see in the technology than just the experience in grabbing a tub of popcorn, flopping on the couch, and watching bullets or a giant shark come within close proximity. 

The added fire underneath the tech’s feet lies in following right behind a skirmish barreling down the gridiron during an NFL playoff game, or hiding behind a crumbled wall amid a battlefield with a controller mocking an AK-47.  It’s in how 3D will become a part of pseudo-everyday life.  Along with an artistic movement spurned by James Cameron’s trip through Pandora, one that’s passed to other regaled directors, 3D might be around to stay due to this added high-profile interest in the medium.

Throwing on those polarized glasses, however durable or stylish they get, will surely grow old sooner or later. 

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