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Messed Up

I just got back from seeing Disney/Pixar's Up in digital 3D. The movie itself is beautiful, both visually and conceptually. The story is charming yet poignant with lots of laughs, the voice actors—led by Ed Asner as the gruff Carl Fredricksen—are superb, and the animation is stunning. Interestingly, many of the animated items, even most of the dogs, are essentially photorealistic, but the humans are deliberate caricatures. I suspect Pixar goes this route because it's so difficult to animate truly realistic-looking people thanks to the exquisite human sensitivity to facial detail and body language. I have no problem with that, but I was disappointed in the 3D presentation for several reasons.

First of all, the passive, polarized glasses one must wear for a commercial 3D movie substantially reduce the amount of light reaching your retinas, making the image appear quite dim. Also, the color isn't quite the same—it's a bit more muted and dingy. I've seen several 3D movies lately, and they've all had these problems.

Another distraction was motion blur. Mind you, this was a 2K (2048x1080) DLP projector, but objects in motion were seriously fuzzed out, which I suspect is an artifact of the alternating-eye 3D process. Finally, in all the 3D movies I've attended, I've always seen subtle discontinuities, especially in objects close up or far away at the periphery of the image, that break the 3D spell. Apparently, the technology cannot yet surpass the human brain's sensitivity to these cues.

Many studios are starting to pump out 3D animated movies as fast as they can make them—most of the previews before Up were for exactly such titles. And it seems that the entire consumer-electronics industry is abuzz about 3D in the home, with several platforms vying for dominance—can you say "yet another format war"?

From what I've seen of 3D so far, I think the buzz is premature. I walked out of the theater thinking about how much I look forward to the Blu-ray of Up so I can see it in high-def 2D with all of its brightness and colors intact, not to mention less motion blur and no distracting discontinuities. I have no doubt that we will continue to hear a lot about 3D in the months and years ahead, but I think it will be quite some time before a standard platform is adopted and the picture quality improves to match that of a good 2D digital image.

If you have an audio/video question for me, please send it to scott.wilkinson@sorc.com.

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