What’s wrong with 3D films and TV?
Hailed as the next big thing in entertainment, 3D films and TV will emerge over the next five years and result in most of us sitting in darkened rooms wearing strange glasses for fun.
I visited a friend’s house this week and he proudly told me that he had been with his children to see Alice in Wonderland in 3D at the local cinema and how much he and his kids enjoyed it. I promptly picked up the pair of the “Roy Orbison style glasses” he had been forced to purchase to watch the film and put them on. I looked at his youngest child through the glasses and threw up my arms in excitement and loudly exclaimed “Wow!!! I can see you in 3D, that’s amazing !!!”. The child smiled :), I think she got my point.
Despite the hype and box office success of the latest batch of 3D films the 3D effects are hardly revolutionary and neither do they match the 3D experience of everyday real life.
When I went to see AVATAR in 3D I immediately noticed some of the problems with this technology.
Firstly the wearing of the polarized filtered glasses over my normal specs was awkward and resulted on me constantly fiddling with them to prevent them slipping down my nose or being misaligned. I also noticed multiple internal reflections from ambient ceiling spot lights, which cinemas are required to keep illuminated for health and safety reasons (I assume). This is annoying but the main issue is that the tinted glasses reduce the colour vibrancy of the screen image and thereby mute your enjoyment somewhat.
I found that some of the 3D scenes just didn’t fit or register right for me; perhaps it’s my eyes or something to do with the optimal seating position or screen size. But the most critical effect of this type of 3D is that your eyes can’t alter focus within the 3D scene as they would in the real world. I found that as my attention wandered over the scene I was trying to focus on foreground and background objects that the director and camera operator has decided would be out of focus in this shot. At this point I lost the 3D experience magic, the illusion was broken and consequently my attention on the film and its story was momentarily interrupted.
I am suspicious that perhaps the commercial success of AVATAR might be due to people having to go back to see the film a second time because they missed part of the story the first time around as their brains were trying to process and sort out the 3D effects.
My father, whom I accompanied to the film, had more serious problems with the 3D. His eyesight in one eye is good but in the other bad; he has the start of cataracts and has problems seeing detail in low light. The net result was that after trying various arrangements of the 3D glasses and his own prescription specs he declared that he both couldn’t see the awesome 3D effects very well and in fact the picture was better without the 3D glasses! He concluded watching the film without both his ordinary glasses and the 3D pair and apparently fell asleep somewhere around half way through. I wondered if this experience might have beset some of the aging members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (who decide on the Oscars) and hence that was why AVATAR didn’t get best picture or best director this year.
So, what will be needed to give us a real 3D experience?
Ultimately advances in large scale holographic imaging and projection are needed for cinema scale public viewing and objects need to appear solid in the 3D space. Ideally glasses should not be necessary. The Star Trek Holodecks come to mind as an ideal example. But at the moment I have no idea how this would be done or even if it will be possible anytime in the future.
In the meantime however, we may get closer by increasing the HD resolution of image projections and TV screens and displaying multiple images, possibly hundreds of stereo pairs every second, of a particular scene at different focusing points. The Camera technology to do this would be beyond even that developed for films like AVATAR and Alice in Wonderland. A pair of LCD shutter type glasses would select the image pairs to be viewed by each eye by examining the optical geometry of your eyes and allowing you to both view the desired object in the scene that you want to focus on and also correcting automatically for any vision aberrations, in effect also acting like your own prescription glasses so obviating the need to wear two pairs or a pair of contact lenses. I neat idea might be to combine the shutters and eyesight focus detection within a pair of contact lenses.
An alternative way might be to create a virtual 3D world of the Movie in which you can both observe what’s going on in an immersive fashion or even participate in the film as an extra. As with many current computer games that put you in the driving seat or as the first person shooter, you would see the movies surroundings while wearing a light weight 3D headset and be able to move your head and look around the scene. Actors and the action would occur around you or you might even find yourself as the passenger in the car chase.
The viewing angle would have to be the same as your normal peripheral vision and therefore the goggles would have to be large enough and possibly curved 180 degrees to give the coverage. A wearable IMAX if you like. Alternatively the images could be beamed directly into your eyes and onto your retina by low power lasers, although for some reason I don’t think I would feel safe with that. Extending the contact lens idea mentioned above could see images created in active contact lenses in your normal field of view. An adaption of that could even present augmented reality in the real world so that you see things that aren’t really there, for example, a virtual life size assistant in a department store or conference participants seated around the table but who are in fact all over the world.
For this Ultimate 3D experience to become a reality the technology for high definition image capture and processing will need to be much greater than it is now, particularly because the rendering of multiple virtual images in a computer will need to be accomplished in real time and not take days to render a single frame but it is not beyond near future possibility as graphics processing chips continue to be developed.
But while this seems a long way off do not despair, with very little technology and very low cost you too can experience the awesomeness of 3D right now…just open your eyes and go outside into the real world and smile