Hugh Reinbolt: Opinions and thoughts on emerging and cutting edge trends in technology, digital and social media that inspire me.


Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Three Dimensional Future - Cinema & HDTV in 3D will grow & grow

It's a new year, into the second decade of the second millennium A.D. Amazing advances in technology and lifestyle have surpassed expectations - file-sharing became an unstoppable copyright infringing force; social networking bought the world together in peace, chaos and in joy and pain; Apple put MAC computers in our pockets; HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc battled it out for supremacy; HDTV became commonplace; Avatar in all its amazing 3D glory was indeed a spectacular film and experience, and Rage Against The Machine went to number one in the UK singles chart. All in all, a fairly impressive and exciting time.

What I am mostly fascinated by at this very moment is the prospect of 3D film technology. DisplaySearch forecasts there will be over 7,000 new 3D cinema screens installed (I assume globally) in 2010 and an additional 9,000 in 2011 - it's going to get very popular this year! 3D cinema has been proven a great success now - however, people have to wear glasses, which to be honest, really does suck, but it can't last forever.

Current 3D techniques are as follows (Source: Empire, Dec 2008; 46):


Uses cardboard-framed red & blue glasses to allow each naked eye to interpret different coloured images.

Alternate-Frame Sequencing

Frames of a film alternate between each eye on screen whilst shutter-glasses open and close so each eye sees only the correct frames.


The current theatrical method, as employed for Disney's A Christmas Carol, Avatar and the forthcoming Tintin. Polarisation superimposes two distinct images using polarising filters. The lenses of the glasses admit differently polarised light, therefore two distinct images are seen.


This method of 3D does not require glasses at all - it uses 'lenticular lenses' or a 'parallax barrier'. This means that you have to stand in a particular place before the screen so each eye can see a different version of the image shown - a great obstacle for this technique to be mass marketable.

3D is now even moving beyond the cinema and into home television. Recent advertisements in cinema for 3D HDTV Sky boxsets were actually quite surprising (this is Sky's first consumer awareness campaign for it's 3D channel, with airtime before screenings of Avatar across 700 UK cinemas -- DirectTV have also announced a 3D channel). 3D Blu-ray players and 3D encoded Blu-ray discs are also expected in the near future (Sony, Samsung and JVC have announced partnerships with RealD, which creates the technology behind most of the 3D movie screens in the UK and the US). Supposedly the new 3D TV sets will employ Alternate-Frame Sequencing and "active-shutter" LCD 3D glasses, which suggests competition with the innovative Polarisation technique currently used in cinema. See Yahoo! Tech.

Either I am difficult to please, or I just have high expectations, because I would much rather do without the glasses. I know the technology has been out there for a while, a friend of mine sells the advertising space of Philips 3D TV screens to businesses in the Middle East and has been for years (see Wired) -- TV screens built with Autostereoscopic technology (as consumers pass by the screen, in a shopping mall for example, the 3D image will certainly grab their attention). I have seen them, they are very impressive (supposedly he also sells space on holographic projectors, however I haven't seen them so I cannot comment). It's only a matter of time before this technology becomes perfected and commercialised. Despite the limitations, Magnetic 3D, a global leader in autostereoscopic 3D displays has recently announced that it will be debuting a 2010 product line.

Putting television aside, what about laptops and mobile phones? According to DisplaySearch "the total stereoscopic (with glasses) 3D display market will grow from 0.7 million units and US$902 million in revenues in 2008 to 196 million units and $22 billion in revenues in 2018".  3D-ready TVs are expected to grow from 0.2 million units in 2009 to 64 million units in 2018:

Source: DisplaySearch / cnet)

The most popular 3D display product expected to be sold by 2018 is the mobile phone and the second most popular is forecasted to be 40- to 49-inch displays (TVs, public displays). The growth of 3D cinema and availability of 3D content is predicted to drive a hefty demand.

What lies ahead? We have quickly gone from an ongoing surge of converting from Standard Definition to High Definition; from DVD to HD DVD to Blu-Ray Disc -- to 3DHD and 3D Blu-ray. It's an inevitable evolution over the long-term future. Despite the cost and annoyance of replacing one's technology and personal DVD collection, one day everyone who owns a TV and DVD player will  be kitted out with high definition technology and DVD formats and it seems 3D tech may come hand in hand with HD. What is questionable is the future of cinema -- this may be a far out idea -- but if the public were to have access to newly released films in their own home, to pay a premium to enjoy new films in the comfort of their own houses, with their own 3D 60-inch televisions, would they? It may not be viable for 100% of the population, because that premium would be high; but could cinema become extinct with the advances of home technology, or would the experience of the IMAX render that impossible? This depends on how lazy humans become.

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