3D Technology in Film and TV

The past several years in film have seen a flood in the use of 3D technology, with enough titles coming through to occupy any fan of the format for most of the year. The popularity of 3D in theaters would seem to suggest a move toward an increase in its use on television, as well. Televisions with 3D compatibility, however, have been available since April 2010 but have not brought about a small-screen 3D revolution. A few high-profile sporting events have demonstrated the technology’s potential, but so far it has failed to catch on.

There is no market in Australia for 3D television to speak of, with next to no 3D content being produced for audiences, mixed reports about the sale of 3D-compatible televisions in the retail domain, and no evidence that the television viewership craves material in the format. There is a bit of a “chicken or the egg” factor involved, wherein the television sales are unlikely to go up until the amount of 3D programming does, and 3D programming will not be worthwhile for networks until there are assurances that there will be audiences able to watch. In 2010, the Australian Communications and Media Authority began distributing licenses for 3D broadcasting; a year later, some of the equipment has actually been dismantled for lack of use.

As far as broadcasters are concerned, 3D is a risky technology at the moment. The global consensus is that 3D television content is too costly to produce, relative to the perceived demand. At this point in time, sporting events and other large event programming are most likely to have a market in 3D broadcasting, while video games and films are expected to emerge for use on external systems. Game platforms such as Playstation and Xbox 360 each have a line of titles for use on 3D systems.

Since June 2010, a growing number of feature films have become available on 3D Blu-ray DVDs. Conceivably, Blu-ray could become the gateway for greater adoption of 3D television technology, pushing sales of enough sets for broadcasters to have a market audience. At this point, the cost of these entertainment systems is still prohibitive for a large number of consumers, however, with prices running in the thousands of dollars.

There are a number of different kinds of 3D technology, with each type falling into an “active” or “passive” kind of stereoscopy. Unlike the passive polarized glasses used in the cinema, active polarized glasses are used for home systems. These shutter glasses alternately darken and lighten each lens to generate the 3D effect. They are sizable and complex and at the moment built to be specific to the television they come with.

The requisite use of glasses—spectacles-free 3D is estimated to be several years away—is likely a significant factor hampering broader 3D television adoption. Casual home television viewing habits are not always consonant with the need to wear special equipment. Glasses mean, on the one hand, that only programming that grabs one’s undivided attention will be worth watching in 3D; on the other hand, the same programming is most likely to be watched in groups, which presents a dilemma when there aren’t enough glasses to go around.

The entertainment industry seems to be directing most of its 3D effort on film for the time being. The sport film niche is getting fresh attention for 3D film in addition to the large-scale adventure and animation features Hollywood has already been producing in 2D and 3D formats. The future of 3D television is both certain and uncertain: most seem to feel that television’s 3D revolution will arrive, but how, when, and what it will look like are yet to be seen.

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