3D Dead? Don’t Count It Out Just Yet

3D Dead? Don't Count Out Technology

Format has plateaued and will be stuck at this level until the technology improves

The recent announcement that ESPN is shuttering its 3D sports network has triggered another round of “3D is dead” articles.

But 3D isn’t dead. I do think, though, it has plateaued and is going to be stuck at about this level until the technology improves.

3D fans take heart, though: That improved tech is already on the way.

James Cameron has argued that once 3D TV catches on with viewers, studio slates will go all-3D, just as they had to go all-color after the TV networks did. But so far, 3D TV isn’t catching on. Steve Schklair of 3D tech supplier 3ality admitted pangs of doubt after the ESPN announcement. “3D television in the U.S., for many reasons, is just not going to happen in the current climate,” he said. “The audience is not being built.”

Vince Pace, James Cameron’s partner in Cameron-Pace Group (and Schklair’s direct competitor) blames the active-glasses 3D TV systems that most consumer electronics companies introduced. Too expensive and too difficult to use, he says. (LG and Vizio went with passive, RealDstyle glasses.)

“I feel that in many ways we’ve been in recovery mode for that misstep,” said Pace. He believes glasses-free 3D TVs and brighter projection in movie theaters will help the technology find far wider acceptance.

But Schklair notes that BSkyB’s 3D TV service in the U.K. is doing well. “It succeeds in the U.K. because of the quality and the non-repetitiveness of their offerings,” he says. Pace also observes that in England, the major driver behind 3D has been a broadcaster promoting shows in the format, not manufacturers trying to sell TVs.

Pace says the next window of opportunity for 3D will come with the arrival of 4K Ultra-High-Def TV. Creatively, he says, 3D and UHD match up well: Both benefit from wider camera angles and less camera movement than today’s HDTV. Cameron-Pace Group is already shifting its “5D” production systems (2D and 3D together) to one 4K camera and one HD camera (4K for the 2D feed; HD on both eyes for the 3D feed).

Also, crucially, 4K TV screens have enough pixels to make a glasses-free TV set practical. As costs for 4K sets come down, and “autostereo” TVs hit the market, that should help 3D, since people don’t like putting on glasses, be they active or passive, to watch television.

In theaters, 3D has had an odd summer. Two big releases in the format have come from filmmakers who are publicly indifferent or hostile to 3D: J.J. Abrams, director of “Star Trek Into Darkness,” and Christopher Nolan, producer of “Man of Steel.” (Zack Snyder, who directed the Superman origin story, proved quite adept with 3D in “Legend of the Guardians: Owls of Ga’Hoole.”)

The majors want their tentpoles released in 3D because it’s lucrative: By my very rough calculations, Warners got about $16 million from the opening weekend “Man of Steel” 3D upcharge in the U.S. But studios view theatrical 3D as a mature market and aren’t pushing it as a premium experience anymore — even though they continue to charge a premium for the tickets.

Looking ahead, Schklair and Pace report a surge of interest in shooting features in native 3D, the conversion-free kind that’s implemented at the start of the production process. So it doesn’t appear that 3D pictures are going to disappear. On the exhibition side, the long-awaited laser-driven projectors are being readied for market. That should solve many of the problems of dim projection and muddy color that have plagued the format.

So I think 3D is going to be sitting quietly for a while, waiting for laser projectors, UHD, glasses-free 3D TVs and the next generation of streaming VOD. Then look for it to rise up again, much to the dismay of those who have pronounced it dead so many times before.

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  1. Joe Foerster says:

    Clearly the audience is divided on whether to 3D or not. Given dimmer images, higher prices and little enhancement to the story, it seems 3D is hardly worth it now that the novelty has worn off. But, as some have pointed out, there are some films that cry out for 3D and are much better for it. I think 3D is, like Stereophonic audio, best when it is subtle and not flying out of the screen into your face. When 3D movies are done with an eye to enhancing the reality of the situation not making people’s eyes bug out, there are probably fewer headaches and strained eyes. Another phenomenon helping to kill the 3D experience in the home is the ridiculous practice of packaging Blu-Ray releases so I have to “pay for” a DVD, a BD and a 3D BD for up to $40 when all I want is a 3D BD worth about $17-20. I’ve gone looking to see if there are alternatives and thought maybe Vudu, which streams 3D HD-quality movies over the Internet would be an answer. But their sales price for 3D features is around $36, which can be more than buying a 3D combo pack. What kind of stupidity is that? If you want to know why many people are not snapping up 3D content, look no further than the pricing model of greedy studios and retailers.

  2. vincent says:

    Ive had enough of 3d, i just dont like how dark the picture is. star trek into darkness in 3d was a mistake decision to view it in for me.

  3. D.M. Kane says:

    I guess Phoenix AZ is in the boonie’s because I am one of those people that demand it not be in 3D, 1. for the cost 2 for the dimmed colors (with the exception of say avatar 2) 3. Movies that work just as well on 2-D (if not better).. etc etc

  4. gtvManager says:

    I work at a cinema, and it really depends on the territory where you are showcasing the 3D content. When Avatar first came out, it was sold-out for months at the cinema I work at in New England. Now, three years or so later, we barely sell five tickets to a 3D presentation of a summer blockbuster. Every customer demands that, “I don’t want the one that’s in 3D.” It may stick around, but it will only truly be lucrative in Boston and LA where artists are willing to dish out the money for it. In the “boonies,” people tend to want to save their money. They already complain about the high price of a normal movie ticket.

  5. John says:

    getting rid of the glasses would be a start

  6. Pete Moss says:

    3D doesn’t work for one reason: Film techniques need to be invisible. Good editing, directing, writing, scoring, etc., all work when we don’t notice them. 3D on the other hand, doesn’t work unless you are constantly aware of it. So by its nature, its antithetical to the medium. In other words, for 3D to work you need to notice it, but for a film to work, you need to not notice it. It’s fine for an occasional gimmick, but as a standard to the medium it will never work.

  7. Honestly, 3D deserves it’s death now. To think of a future where everything is 3D is just preposterous. Who really wants that besides children? If the true filmmakers are right about anything (Nolan, Abrams), it’s their true expertise that we should take heed in. Film isn’t meant to thrive through 3D, its the other way around. But studio greed would have you think otherwise. Claiming that 3D isn’t a premium experience anymore yet still charging premium prices, what kind of bull is that? The sole purpose for its creation was to take more hard earned money out of your wallet so you could enjoy a nice headache after “watching” a movie.

  8. Dog 3D says:

    Must treat 3D as it own medium. e.g. , if your going to frame a movie for 2D then post dimensionalize it , you have done a disservice both to the audience and the 3D medium .Productions must be committed to shoot 3D from the start , not make that decision after it has finished production.

  9. Eddie Ryan says:

    There are some of us (quite a decent-sized section of the film-lov1ng public in fact) who can’t actually view 3D due to visual impairment (lazy eye, colour-blindness etc). So for those of us unfortunate souls, the thought of 3D-only movies is a nightmare scenario.

    Plus, 3D is only really suitable for certain genres anyway, in my opinion, eg horror, kids/animation, some action movies. Would anyone really have wanted to see an epic period-piece like The King’s Speech for example, in 3D? And would it have improved the film, or the film-watching experience? It’s one of the greatest movies of all time, and perfectly suited to 2D.

  10. Haven’t seen a single 3D movie that felt worth it. Looks cool for the 1st 10 mins and after that you don’t notice anything except the movie looking darker. Let it die and save your money.

    • Jasmine Lyles says:

      The Jurassic Park IMAX 3D re-release was the first film I’ve felt completely worth the extra surcharge. A truly memorable addition to an already wonderful film.

  11. Being in the UK the comment abut us getting the content, as opposed to the equipment, sold to us helps explain why you having more problems there than here. It makes a big difference.

  12. Clark says:

    My family has a rule that serves us well: if we can’t catch the feature in IMAX 3D, we go 2D and wait for the 3D Blu-Ray to enjoy the screen extrusion. We learned this by seeing “Star Wars Episode 1” and “Titanic” in regular projected 3D and being very disappointed. So I certainly understand why you need a projector bulb the brightness of an HMI.
    However, I’ve never understood why people have such a problem with active shutter glasses. I would never spend a pretty penny to settle for LG’s cheaper, passive application of the technology.

    • bite the rough says:

      I’m sorry, but passive is the Superior tech ( its what they use in cinemas) as it employs circular polerization .Active ( the shutter system) is simply a TV with a higher refresh rate.

    • therealeverton says:

      I like other LG passive system, especially as the overall cost is so much lower, especially with the glasses. Cinemas have been shooting themselves in the foot with low lightbulbs and the prices should be lowered.

  13. Quigley says:

    3-D never will be truly dead, much to my dismay. I think 3-D is a money-wasting gimmick that doesn’t do anything to enhance the movie-going experience. James Cameron is the only one who has used 3-D effectively. I’m excited with the idea of 4K-resolution TV’s coming out, but not if it only projects 3-D. It seems that 3-D is here to stay. Too bad.

  14. Chris says:

    I am so beyond done with 3D. If a movie is in 3D it must be 60 frames per second otherwise quick movements because nauseatingly choppy. This is incredibly distracting from a story standpoint and it detracts from the visuals. I also think the film absolutely must be filmed in 3D otherwise it ends up looking like a cheap video game. Take Star Trek Into Darkness for instance. It was impossible to tell what was happening during it’s frenetic action scenes with fast movements and the 3D made the ships look like toys. What should have been a spectacular, well crafted visual treat was reduced something that more closely resembled a cheap, fake looking mess of a video game being played on a severely underpowered computer. What drives me crazy is that for these big “event” movies it’s becoming more and more difficult to find decent showtimes on decent screens without having to pay extra for the 3D format. I refuse to pay more for something I enjoy less. If this trend doesn’t stop, I’ll stop paying to go to movies in the theater.

  15. ABasketOfPups says:

    Angela’s got a point, and the Oculus Rift may be much closer to that reality than Google Glass. Personally I’m hoping high frame rate takes off: I’d much rather see 48 or 60 fps than 3d, or the near-slideshow that is 24 fps.

    • 48 or 60 (whether 2D or 3D) works great for some content but not as much for others. I’m hoping frame rate and the amount of motion blur become creative choices that the director and cinematographer can make, suiting them to their content. They may also shift throughout the story, as lighting and sound levels do. Or maybe we’ll all find that too jarring.

  16. Angela Wilson Gyetvan says:

    Actually, as long as viewing is confined to a flat screen, 3D is likely to remain a novelty rather than an accepted format. After playing with (and being blown away by) Google Glass, here’s my two cents: the industry should be rethinking how folks are actually going to be viewing content in the future – which could really open the door for stereo.

  17. It may not be dead. But it’s becoming passe. Time to move on to holograms.

    • Holographic TV exists today in labs as tiny, monochrome, low-res screens. It’s probably 20 years from the first public demonstrations. But I think it’s going to be a bit problematic for TV/cinema. It’s going to require an entirely new visual grammar. Shooting & cutting holograms is going to be completely different from even 3D cinema.

  18. Truth says:

    3D is a gimmick that died long ago. The attempts to revive it are futile unless it is forced down viewers’ throats.

    How many times have 3D movies been tried to be made acceptable – in the 50s, the 70s, and now. History repeats itself but in Hellywood no one remembers and no one thinks.

    • Some movies are enhanced by 3D, some aren’t. Most CG-heavy movies are actually improved by 3D, if it’s done well; that’s why “Avatar” and “Life of Pi” worked better in 3D, as do CG-animated pictures. “How to Train Your Dragon” was much better in 3D. It keeps coming back because when it’s good, it’s great. Unfortunately, it’s not always good, and there have always been filmmakers who try to exploit it for a quick buck.

      • I think you can’t force a format that makes sick a strong part of the audience. I physically can’t watch a 3D movie without having headaches and it’s not like I tried. The technology needs to evolve far beyond where it stands today (not making people getting sick) and less an inconvenience for people waring glasses if it wants to become a standard like colour is.

        In my opinion Hollywood needs better stories, not technology.

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