Ups and Downs

After all the buzz about Toy Story 3, my expectations were pretty high, and I wasn't disappointed when I saw it in Imax 3D—that is, I wasn't disappointed in the story or the 3D, which was among the best I've ever seen. However, the particular presentation I attended at the AMC Burbank 16 did have some problems.

First of all, the sound system was too damn loud. Even with my custom-made –25dB earplugs, it was still too loud, especially the low frequencies. Unfortunately, I didn't have my SPL meter with me, so I can't document actual sound pressure levels, but it was so loud that my wife left after about 15 minutes, and she was wearing earplugs as well. Of course, Imax promotes its sound system as much as its huge screen, touting something like 11,000 watts of power, but parents are bringing little kids to this movie, and I have no doubt that their hearing is being damaged at these levels.

Then there were the glasses. The last time I saw something in 3D at my local Imax theater, the glasses were very large and quite comfortable. This time, however, they were much smaller, and they exhibited some diffractive artifacts with onscreen highlights being repeated elsewhere in my visual field. My wife's glasses had the same problem, but Tom Norton's didn't. If people are going to spend close to $20 to see Imax 3D—supposedly the ultimate movie-going experience—the theater shouldn't cheap out on the glasses, which need large lenses to increase the immersive effect and should not have optical anomalies.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? As I said at the top, Toy Story 3 is among the best 3D I've ever seen. In fact, I actually forgot I was watching 3D for much of the movie. Pixar was generally conservative in its approach to 3D, which is critical for comfortable viewing. Even so, the 3D added something significant to the experience, drawing me into the toys' world more than 2D would have. And the story and voice acting are superb, though the plot is a bit too drawn out for my taste at times.

Before the movie, the trailers were full of talking-animal, action-adventure, and sci-fi movies, which I believe will comprise the bulk of 3D releases in the next couple of years. I am so looking forward to the new Tron in 3D, though it will undoubtedly have more and longer super-loud parts than Toy Story 3, which is why I will probably see it in a non-Imax venue.

When people ask if 3D will—or even should—be applied to every movie, I say probably not, at least not until filmmakers learn how to use it effectively. Even then, there are plenty of people who object to 3D, especially those who prefer serious dramas, and plenty more who can't even perceive 3D, a condition called monocular vision or stereo blindness. So I'm sure that some movies will continue to be made in 2D for a long time to come.

Is 3D commercial cinema an attempt by the studios to rake in more money at the box office by charging higher ticket prices for it? Yes. Is 3D at home intended to encourage people to buy new TVs and Blu-ray players? Of course. But in my view, 3D also offers something of real value—a more immersive, engaging experience than 2D, at least if it's done well and the screen occupies most of the viewers' visual field. And with professional training programs such as the one offered by Sony, filmmakers will get a lot better at it over the next few years, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

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Kenny Kraly Jr.'s picture

Hello Scott I love the home theater geeks podcast on the twit network it's a good show. Scott I am not alone with the hole subject of 3D TV's I don't like 3D TV's 1st off it's cost too much to get one allmost $4,000 for a new 3D HDTV plus to get 3D you need along with the 3D blu-ray player , a pair of 3D glasses and IR itmitter to get the full effect of 3D. I am just not a fan of 3D in general. And with the econmy the way it is now will consumers adopt 3D HDTV fast as normal HDTV's? That's the big question. Thanks Scott and keep up the good work Scott

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Kenny, I'm very glad you enjoy the podcast! You're certainly not alone in your dislike of 3D. As for the cost of 3D TVs, the price isn't necessarily more than premium 2D sets. For example, the Samsung 46C8000 3D TV lists for $2800, while the LG 47LE8500 2D set is $2900. In fact, more and more premium TVs will have 3D capabilities along with many other high-end features, so buyers of those sets will get 3D whether they want it or not. Also, since 3D TVs will be premium sets, they will generally do a great job on 2D content. The biggest problems for 3D adoption in the home are the expensive glasses, the need for a 3D Blu-ray player, and the lack of 3D content. Also, the 3D experience isn't nearly as compelling on a small TV as it is in a commercial cinema. Have you seen much commercial 3D? I find it to be wonderful in many cases, though my experience of Toy Story 3 obviously had some issues.

Kenny Kraly Jr.'s picture

No Scott I have not seen commercial 3D the theater in my area is digital but just digital not 3D. And 1 more question Scott who do you think is the pionner of digital cinema George Lucas or James Camren? Thanks Scott and keep up the good work.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Between the two, the pioneer of digital cinema is George Lucas, whose Star Wars Episode II was the first major digital-cinema presentation back in 2002. James Cameron can be considered a pioneer in modern 3D digital cinema with Avatar, though he certainly wasn't the first to offer it. I hope you get an opportunity to see 3D in a good digital theater; it really can look spectacular.

Kenny Kraly Jr.'s picture

I hope so too Scott keep up the good work I allways listen to you on the home theater geeks podcast on the twit network and on the tech guy radio show on sundays. I do have a guest geek request Scott could you get on a movie sound designer on a future show. I have allways I like movie sound designers and sound is just as important as good picture quallity. Thanks Scott

Jarod's picture

Love the podcasts! I just wanted to get that out of the way. Getting back to the article at hand we went and saw Toy Story 3 3D and loved it except for the volume level. Complete opposite of your situation. I wish that our local theater would turn up their volume. They usually have it set about right but here lately they seem to have been turning the volume down. This is good for children and all but what about turning it up to the point that you can actually hear the dialog? Sorry for the ranting btw. I do not know what is worse, too loud or not loud enough?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Jarod, thanks for your kind words about the podcast! I have a blast doing it, and I'm glad you find it valuable. I agree that the dialog must be clearly intelligible, which it won't be if the volume is too low. However, yours is the first instance I've ever heard of a commercial theater with the volume turned down too much; usually, it's too loud, at least from my own experience and everyone else I've talked to about it. If it used to be about right but now is too low, I'd talk to the theater manager about it.

Jarod's picture

Went and saw Toy Story 3 3D again last night the volume level was low again. I went up to the manager and asked them if they could raise the volume a bit. He said he would raise it just a bit and kindly apologized and said that recently parents have been complaining about the volume being too high for there kids and thats the reason for it being too low. He said that showings from 8:00 p.m. and later usually have the normal reference volume level. We had gone to the 1:30 show. Thanks again for the suggestion Scott!

David Vaughn's picture

Scott, I saw Toy Story 3, but the family didn't want to see it in 3D after a bad experience with Shrek 4 (I didn't go to that one). They said the 3D was very disappointing and they weren't happy with the dim picture. As for the standard 2D presentation, it was outstanding. The contrast was first-rate and the colors really popped-off the screen. I was extremely impressed with the story though and consider it one of the best pictures I've seen this year. Hopefully it gets a nomination for Best Picture. Best, David

Luke Chung's picture

Saw "TS3" at the Tanforan Century 20 Theaters in San Bruno, CA. on Thursday night with my fiance. For the most part, I agree with your assessments of the execution and handling of 3D technology in service of the story. Many 3D presentations tend to be over-the-top, often causing motion sickness, dizziness and nausea...when I saw "Avatar 3D" at the same theater, I needed a Dramamine tablet to quell my stomach's queasiness after experiencing all the fast-motion action sequences director James Cameron brought to the fore in THAT movie! Thankfully, Pixar Studios refused to go that route and the 3D presentation was both enjoyable and subtle! Overall, I'd say this is the best movie I've seen this summer!

Jeff D's picture

As I can't seem to get ahold of you any other way, I have a small comment about 3D, I think it sucks! Until you can make it a comsumerable item it will not fly. Scott, I just listened to your podcast w/Josh Kairoff, it was Amazing. As a retired E.E., I could picture the circuits as he was explaining them, could you please bring more geeks like him on your cast? I'm kind of a neebie when it comes to this talking on line , my dauther told me I should do it, GOOD for me! Anyway, I love it when you have Real geeks on your cast. Keep up the good work, Jeff

Tom's picture

I am going to be moving my tv into a room next to my equipment (reciever etc). The run of cable needs to be about 55 feet (in wall). Is it better to convert hdmi to cat5 and back to hdmi or to have a 55 foot run of hdmi? Would a signal strengthener be necessary with straight hdmi? Also, do wall plates diminish signal quality in hdmi?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Jeff, thanks for the kind words, and good for you for plunging into the online world! I agree that Josh was a great guest, and I hope you find my other guests to be as interesting. For example, this week my guest was David Abrams, a super-geeky video calibrator. That one should be posted on UAV tomorrow. Tom, I would definitely convert HDMI to CAT5 or optical fiber for a 55-foot run. You would most likely need a signal booster to run HDMI that long. I don't know if wall plates degrade HDMI signal quality, but I would guess not.

Peter's picture

I'm a retired cinematographer. Add me to your growing fanboy list for the podcast. It's excellent. The guests are superb, as are your questions and comments. Especially good is your 3D technology coverage. Feel free to have more and more 3D experts as guests. We all need education in this new field. FWIW 1)I think 3D is as important as the addition of colour to the movie biz. Those who say "it won't fly" are luddites. 2) Home 3D requires a front projector. I saw 3D in a store recently (active glasses system) and, while the 3D was very, very good, the image was far too small, even on the (approx) 50 inch display. We need 100 inch screens for home 3D. 3) Animated (no camera) 3D movies are the state of the art for cinema today. (And I'm a cameraman!) : ) "Up", "Ratatouille" and the Toy Story movies are as good as movies have ever been. Keep up the great podcasts. Get even techier guests. We can take it. : ) Peter

Norm's picture

What's the deal with the AMC theaters in Burbank? We last saw Knight and Day and the presentation left out any trailers; the lights weren't dimmed correctly; the place was dirty. This place used to be a decent place, outside of our home, to view a film. Another deal with Burbank, we wanted to view a 2D version of Toy 3, and it was only available in their bomb shelter theaters in the mall; i.e. crap seating/viewing. To view it in the "good" theaters (see above), one had to watch 3D. I'm sticking to my own theater. BTW, the 2D version of of Toy was done extremely well. Some movies are simply worth seeing before their Bluray release.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Peter, thanks for the kind words! I intend to get as many 3D experts on the podcast as I can. I agree with most of your points, though I just read a story that cites the steadily declining opening-weekend box-office revenues for 3D versions of new movies. For example, Avatar's opening-weekend box-office take was 71% from 3D (as expected), and How to Train Your Dragon was 68%. Interestingly, this statistic has dropped for each subsequent 3D release; Despicable Me was 45%. (Unfortunately, the 3D in that movie is pretty bad; see my blog about it, which I posted today.) For 3D to be successful, Hollywood must do a consistently good job with it, which hasn't always been the case so far (e.g., Clash of the Titans). Norm, I go to the AMC Burbank all the time, and I've never had the experience you describe. I do agree that the theaters in the mall are not great.

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