3D Technology: The Future is Now

•May 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

3D technology is here to stay. But for how long? Credit: digitalproductionme.com

3D technology has come a long way.  Starting as little more than a way of view photographs, 3D film became a short-lived fad in the 1950’s before dropping into the realm of gimmickry.  Thanks to the development of IMAX and newer, more manageable equipment though, the medium has made a huge comeback.

Certain television events in the U.S. have utilized 3D. Credit: Kenneth Yeung

3D television for the home is less than a year away, and the use of 3D technology in the record-breaking movie “Avatar” has likely ensured that the medium is here to stay.

But beyond that, does anyone really know how far 3D film and television can go? There are theories, but its impossible to know for certain what role 3D technology will play 10 years from now.  I’ll be reviewing the history of inner workings of 3D technology in this blog entry, as well as presenting my own opinion on where I think the medium is headed.

The Past

3D technology first came into being in 1838, when Professor Charles Wheatstone invented the Stereoscope.  This device utilized stereoscopic technology, which takes advantage of the fact that humans perceive 2 images in their brain, to allow people to view photographs in 3 dimensions.  The device attained a good bit of popularity after its introduction, but interest in the Stereoscope waned in the beginning of the 20th century.

Credit: rivalee

Stereoscopic technology re-emerged in 1946, and the 1950’s 3D fad took off not long after.  Films such as “House of Wax” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” were shot using stereo cameras and shown using the anaglyph method, thus requiring viewers to wear those all-too-familiar red and blue glasses.  Like the stereoscope, this method plays off of the fact that humans perceive 2 different images in their brain.  Thus, 3D films were shot using 2 cameras placed near each other (this later became one camera with the ability to shoot 2 different images).  The glasses then forced viewers to see a red image in one eye and a blue one in the other.

This method also came with its fair share of problems.  The cameras used to shot the film were unwieldy, and they could only be shown using limited colors and detail, thanks to the colored glasses.  Naturally, the 3D fad died out just a few years after it began.

Polarizing glasses work similarly to the older red and blue ones, but are not dependent on color. credit: Howstuffworks.com

Today’s 3D

3D technology didn’t really re-emerge until the introduction of IMAX 3D in the 90’s, along with the RealD cinema and Dolby 3D screening systems, which both manipulate polarized light in order to show 3D films.  A few feature films were shown in 3D in the first half of the 21st century, but only in the past few years has the medium really taken off.  Animated films in particular have made frequent use of 3D, and the few live-action films to utilize 3D have meet with varying amounts of success.

Sony is one of the leaders of the 3D revolution.

Until recently, 3D television has been utilized very infrequently.  3D TV is really just getting off the ground this year,  with the onset of 3D channels in Britain and Japan and certain events being shown in 3D in the U.S.  The 3D televisions being introduced by Samsung, Sony and other companies use their own method of 3D screening, which require viewers to wear shutter glasses (though methods that don’t require glasses are being researched).

The Future Refocused

The 3D medium undeniably has a bright future ahead of it.  But how bright of a future is it? Most of the talk for now centers around 3D TV.  Companies like Sony are prepared to put 3D TVs out on the market, and several 3D television channels are in the works (and some outside the U.S. are already going).  Despite this, it will probably be a long time before 3D TVs become commonplace, mostly due to cost and other economic reasons.

Is Cameron's other record-breaking movie worth watching in 3D?

As for film, the number of movies offered in 3D is increasing.  Studios are slowly realizing the money making potential of the medium, and there’s also the fact that they are harder to pirate than 2D films.  James Cameron, the director of “Avatar”, is in the process of converting many of his previous films into 3D, including “Titanic” and “Terminator 2”.  There is, however, a bit of criticism surrounding most live-action 3D films, stemming from the fact that most films are filmed in 2D and then modified to be shown in 3D.  Journalists from The Observer expand on this issue (see the video at the end of this post), saying that films that are transferred to 3D after the fact often come a across as gimmiky.  Basically, the film has to be made for the 3D medium, like “Avatar” was.  This likely won’t be a problem as 3D continues to grow: more movies will be made with 3D in mind in the direct future.  As far as film is concerned, 3D is already a large force.  3D films may end up overshadowing 2D within a few years or so, but it certainly won’t do away with them.

This leads me to my main question about the future of 3D.  There’s a double standard when it comes to 3D content.  Drama films, for example, don’t have much need for 3D, so they will continue to be shown in 2D.  The big film companies though, will likely end up favoring the 3D format.  The money making possibilities of 3D have already been proven, but it also makes movies much harder to pirate, since you can’t really record 3D film illegally.  This question will likely have a large impact on 3D television as well, since most drama and comedy shows have no use for 3D. Despite the vast potential of 3D TV, I think that the majority of television will only be shown in 2D for quite a while due to this double standard.  Can the 2D and 3D mediums co-exist? I believe that they can, but at this point, it’s hard to tell.

I think that it will be quite a while before 3D TV has a significant impact on the television industry, simply due to economic reasons and the abundance of programming that has no use for 3D.   But seeing the recent financial success of 3D movies, 3D film may become dominant within the next 10 years.  There are plenty of people who are willing to pay extra to see 3D films, and I think the movie industry will pick up on this.  As far as this medium is concerned, the future is now.

Sources: http://blog.mission3-dgroup.com/2009/01/22/the-history-of-3d-photography/

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118008671.html?categoryid=1009&cs=1

http://www.azcentral.com/thingstodo/movies/articles/2009/03/26/20090326danimation0326.html

http://www.popsci.com/gadgets/article/2010-01/its-about-time-3-d-comes-home

http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/10/3d-tv-explainer/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8285187.stm

http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/News/Press/200910/09-117E/

http://science.howstuffworks.com/3-d-glasses2.htm

Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_television

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LCD_shutter_glasses

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RealD_Cinema

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3D Technology: Seeing is Believing

•May 11, 2010 • 1 Comment

3D TV could be in your home sooner than you think

Believe it or not, 3D technology will be widely available to the American public by years’ end. Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Samsung and Sony, among others, plan to put High-Def 3D televisions on the market this year.  3D movies have become more and more popular since their 21st century revival as well, thanks to the development of cheaper and more efficient technology.  These are all concepts that I covered on my last blog, though.

3D technology itself, and how it really works, will be the focus of this entry.  3D cameras, special screening devices, 3D TVs, and, of course, the 3D glasses all are part of this.  They’re all equally important when it comes to creating and viewing 3D films or television shows.  After all, there’s little harm in knowing at least a little about the inner workings of 3D, a technology that could potentially have an explosion of popularity within the next few years.

Capturing in 3D: The Camera

Filming in 3D is pretty much akin to how human eyesight works.  A person’s two eyes each capture the same image, but at slightly different angles.  These two perspectives come together to form a single, 3D image.  3D cameras consist of two separate lenses, which capture picture in roughly the same manner.  Each lens captures the same image at a different angle, and both are combined when the video is shown.  Viewers who are wearing 3D glasses will only see one angle of the action with one eye, and are thus their eyes are tricked into seeing the film in 3 dimensions.

Sony's 3D camera

That has basically been the case since the advent of 3D film.  Until recently, that is.  Back in October, Sony unveiled the prototype of a single lens 3D camera.  It only records one image, but that image is then split into two by mirrors.

According to Sony, this will make it so that, when the film is viewed, it will appear to be in 2D unless the viewer is wearing 3D glasses.

Sony also unveiled a new way of filming sporting events in 3D at the same time.  This method uses 3 cameras to capture the action, which are edited together to form a 3D image.

 

3D TV: From the camera to the home

Screening in 3D: Projection Methods and 3D TVs

Originally, 3D films could only be screened using the anaglyph method.  The film was shown on two different projectors with a layer of color thrown over each: red and blue, respectively.  The retro red and blue 3D glasses made it so one eye would only see the red and the other would only see the blue.  These two images would combine to form a single 3D image.  The reliance on colors to form the 3D image, though, meant that the colors that a viewer could see were limited, and details were hard to make out.  They also required theaters to show them on a silver screen to help keep the projected images separate.  Even worse, this method was known for inducing nausea in viewers.

The dominant 3D screening system in today’s theatres is RealD cinema.  This method requires only one projector, and uses circularly polarized light to produce a 3D image.  The projector shows alternates between 2 different sets of frames, with each set only meant to be seen by one eye.  A polarizing modulator called a ZScreen is then placed over the projector lens, and viewers wear oppositely polarized glasses that ensure that each eye only sees the frames meant for it.  This also makes it so viewers will see the 3D images regardless of their relative position.

Yet another 3D screening system is Dolby 3D, which works somewhat similarly to the anaglyph method.  This system only requires one projector and unlike the anaglyph method and RealD, doesn’t need a silver screen.  A filtration wheel is put in the projector for 3D presentations, which filters the projected image into three different light wavelengths: red, green and blue.  The glasses worn to view this type of 3D film only allow specific light waves to be seen at specific times, thus creating a 3D image.

Finally there are the 3D TVs being introduced this year, which are comparable to RealD cinema in their method of showing 3D content.  They are designed to show 2 different images, one for each eye, by rapidly alternating between the two.  Viewers have to wear shutter glasses to make sure that each eye sees the correct images.  The specifics of those glasses, though, will have to wait until the following section.

Seeing in 3D: The Glasses

First there are those red and blue glasses used to view films made with the anaglyph method.  They force each eye to see a different image, one red image and one blue one, which then come together to form a single image.  But as stated in the previous section, the anaglyph method’s reliance on these two colors means that viewers can only see limited colors and details.

Next there are the previously mentioned shutter glasses.  The “shutter” that each lens has over it is actually a layer of clear liquid crystal.  The TV gives out signals that effect these shutters, forcing the liquid crystal to darken at certain times.  This is synced to happen in time with the alternating images of the TV screen, so that the viewer will only be able to see what they need to see.

The third type of 3D glasses are polarized glasses, which are utilized by both RealD cinema and Dolby 3D.  The lenses of these glasses are polarized to only see specific light wavelengths, which may or may not have a color attached to them, at certain times.

The picture on the left shows an older method of screening 3D films that requires two projectors, a method that is still utilized at theme park venues.  It’s also worth mentioning that some companies such as LG and Sharp are working on 3D TVs that do not require glasses to view 3D content, but such technology is far from being available to consumers.

 

Capturing, Screening and Seeing: What Next?

3D has grown by leaps and bounds in a few short years, simply speaking in terms of efficiency.  3D film and television has become easier to shoot, show and see; much easier than the days of “House of Wax” and the anaglyph method.  The most recent advent of 3D film has the format seeing popularity it could have only dreamed of 15 years ago, and major TV developers have 3D TVs near ready to go in sale in the U.S.  By this time next year, seeing 3D films and television in the home might not be all that uncommon.  Like this one and my first blog post, my next entry will continue my series on 3D technology.

Sources: http://www.popsci.com/gadgets/article/2010-01/its-about-time-3-d-comes-home

http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/10/3d-tv-explainer/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8285187.stm

http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/News/Press/200910/09-117E/

http://science.howstuffworks.com/3-d-glasses2.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LCD_shutter_glasses

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RealD_Cinema

3D: The Way of the Past and the Future

•April 27, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Photo Credit: Shahrokh Dabiri

Back in February, Samsung began selling its first 3D-ready TV, and 4 more developers plan to join them by year’s end.  Samsung wasn’t even the first to start selling 3D TVs, the Chinese developer TCL outdates them.  Meanwhile, 3D movies are at their highest level of popularity ever, thanks to films such as “Avatar”.  Never before has 3D been pushed to this extent.  The technology to thank for the emergence of the 3D format has existed for more than 150 years.  This blog will go back to the invention of this technology, tracing the 3D format from its humble beginnings to present day.

The roots of 3D technology lie in 1838, with Professor Charles Wheatstone.  He theorized that humans perceive two different images in their brain, due to the separation of their eyes.  He invented a device called a Stereoscope, which allowed viewers to view photographs in three dimensions.  Craig Goldwyn simply defines stereographic technology as “stereo for the eyes” on the website Stereographer.com.  Wheatstone’s invention became popular to say the least, hitting its peak in the 1890’s.  Interest in stereography waned soon after, but it didn’t disappear.  The first 3D film, “The Power of Love” was released in 1922 and the Viewmaster, a personal 3D photo viewer, was introduced in 1938.

The stereo camera (along with those 3D glasses) was introduced in 1946, and a string of 3D films followed, starting with the largely forgettable “Bwana Devil”.  More well known movies utilized 3D shortly after, such as “House of Wax” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder”.  The sudden push for 3D films in the 1950’s can be attributed to the rise of television, which was perceived as a threat to replace movie theaters altogether.  3D film had only a short period of popularity though, due in part to the clunky nature of the technology used to show them.

Photo Credit: rivalee

With the introduction of IMAX 3D in the 90’s, 3D film slowly made a comeback.  Movies like “Spy Kids 3D” and “The Polar Express” were some of the earliest 3D films to have success at the box office.  Though it’s James Cameron’s epic “Avatar” that generated the most public interest, the 3D format has become more common in animated films.  “Coraline”, “Meet the Robinsons”, “Up” and “Monsters vs. Aliens” are just a few of those.  3Dphotography has progressed as well, to the point that anyone with a digital camera can take 3D pictures.  As for  television, certain episodes of shows like “Third Rock from the Sun” utilized 3D.  These shows used the limited Pulfrich 3D method, though.

3D photography has come a long way.  In the old days of the Stereoscope and the Viewmaster, only specific photos could be viewed in 3D, and the average citizen had no way of taking them.  The 3D format is available to everyone now, and common digital cameras can take 3D photos.  3D film was largely viewed as a gimmick in its 1950’s incarnation.  Alfred Hitchcock didn’t think much of it, despite directing “Dial M for Murder”.

The technology that was used to show said films at the time was clunky and unpractical to boot.  While the reintroduction of 3D film in the 21st century started out as gimmicky as ever with “Spy Kids 3D”, the polarized projector made it much simpler to show 3D films in theaters.  This made the format as a whole more accessible, and 3D film become much more common as a result.  3D television can’t even be considered an old technology really: it didn’t really appear in the public eye until the 90’s.

More recently, there has been a push to standardize the 3D television platform.  Five major companies have plans to make TVs with 3D capabilities available to the public, and one type of 3D TV is already available in China, one that doesn’t require special glasses.  Japan, Britain and South Korea already have television channels devoted to 3D programming, and ESPN plans to launch a 3D network in June.  Some events on major U.S. stations, such as the 2010 Masters golf tournament, have been shown in 3D as well.

3D technology has made a complete 360 in terms of popularity. It started with the popularity of the 3D photo-viewing device Stereoscope in the 19th century, and was revived for a time via the Viewmaster.  3D film first became popular in the 1950’s, but died quickly, existing primarily as a gimmick.  Now more and more 3D films are being produced, and 3D TVs made be commonplace by year’s end.  If 3D technology keeps developing at this pace, the sky’s the limit for how far it can progress.

Photo Credit: Kenneth Yeung

Sources: http://blog.mission3-dgroup.com/2009/01/22/the-history-of-3d-photography/

http://stereographer.com/

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118008671.html?categoryid=1009&cs=1

http://www.azcentral.com/thingstodo/movies/articles/2009/03/26/20090326danimation0326.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_television