3D Television: Eye candy or eye strain?
For whatever reason, movie producers have decided that 3D is where it’s at. The entertainment industry has tried 3D technologies in film throughout the last 40 years and, to date, none have been all that successful. The simple reason, side effects that include eye strain and headaches. These are fairly hefty side effects to overcome. Yet, here we are again with a barrage of new 3D films hitting the big screen.
In answer to all of those new films actually filmed in 3D, television makers have decided to try their hand at producing home 3D technologies. The problem with any current 3D technology is that it’s based on a simplistic view of how 3D works. That being, each eye sees a different image. Yes, that’s true. However, it’s hard to provide a quality 3D experience using a flat screen with each eye getting a different image. There’s more to 3D then that. So, while the each-eye-sees-a-different-image 3D technology does work, it does not seem realistic and, in a lot of other ways, it doesn’t really work.
Over the years, IMAX has had its fair share of 3D features. Part of the appeal of IMAX is its very large screen. You would think that watching 3D on that very large screen would be an astounding experience. The reality is far different. Once you don the special polarized 3D glasses, that huge screen is seemingly cut down to the size of a small TV. The 3D imagery takes care of that effect. I’m not sure why that effect happens, but 3D definitely makes very large screen seem quite small. So, even though the screen is huge, were you watching the imagery as flat the 3D kills the scale of the screen. Effectively, the screen seems about half or a quarter the size that it is when watching the same feature as flat.
Worse, transitions that work when the film is flat no longer work in 3D. For example, fades from one scene to another are actually very difficult to watch when in 3D. The reason is that while this transition is very natural in a flat film, this is a very unnatural type of transition in 3D. Part of the reason for this transition problem is that the 3D depth changes confuse the senses and worsen the strain. Basically, you’re wanting to watch 3D to make the entire film seem more real, but some creative elements don’t function properly when watching in 3D. So, that fade I mentioned makes the film appear strange and hard to watch. While that fade would work perfectly when flat, it just doesn’t work at all in 3D. Film makers need to take into account these subtle, but important differences.
Just like filmmakers have had to make some concessions to the HD format (every blemish and crease on clothing is seen), the same must be said of 3D features.
Unfortunately, 3D features haven’t really come much farther along than the early adopters, like Jaws 3D. So, the film maker employs such unnecessary tactics as poking spears at the camera or having flying objects come towards the camera or hovering things close near the camera. It’s all playing to the 3D and not to the story. These such tactics are trite and cliched… much like a velvet Elvis painting. Film producers need to understand not to employ these silly and trite tactics to ‘take advantage’ of 3D film making. There is no need for any extra planning. Let the chips fall where they may and let the film’s 3D do the talking. You don’t need to add flying spears or having things thrown towards the camera. If you didn’t need to do this in 2D, you don’t need to do it in 3D.
Television manufacturers are now trying their hand at producing 3D TVs. So far, the technologies are limited to polarized screens or wearing glasses. While this does work to produce a 3D effect, it has the same drawbacks as the big screen: eye strain and headaches. So, I can’t see these technologies becoming common place in the home until a new technology emerges that requires no glasses and produces no eye strain. So, for now, these television makers are likely to end up sitting on many of these novelty devices. Worse, for the same reason the IMAX screen seems half the size, this effect is also present on Televisions. So, while you may have that 60″ TV in your living room, donning a pair of 3D glasses and watching a 3D feature will effectively turn that huge screen into about half (or less) of its current size. So, you may feel like you’re watching that 3D feature on a 20″ screen.
Going forward, we need a brand new paradigm shifting 3D technology. A new technology that does not rely on glasses or polarization. A new technology that can actually create 3D images in space rather than forcing the eyes to see something that isn’t really there. It would be preferable to actually create 3D imagery in space. Something that appears real and tangible, but isn’t. Holograms come to mind, but we haven’t been able to perfect that technology yet… especially not projected holograms. Once we have a technology on par with Star Trek’s Holodeck, then we might begin to have emersive 3D experiences that feel and seem real.
For me, the present state of 3D is novelty and produces too many negative effects. However, because it is new, it is something that will win some support, but overall I think that people will still prefer to watch flat TV and movies because it causes far less eyestrain. So, I fully expect that this resurgence of 3D will dwindle to nothing within the next 2 years. In fact, in 5 years time, I’d be surprised to see if any TV makers are still producing the current 3D TVs and film makers will have dropped back to flat features keying off of lack of support. Effectively, I see this 3D resurgence as similar to the failed quadrophonic technologies of 70s.