3D: Threat or Menace?

Everyone seems to have a “for” or “against” position on 3D. In my last Blog most who chimed in were against. Very against. But what I’m wondering is, when people say they don’t like 3D, are they referring to the artistic merit of 3D or the technical limitations of many 3D presentations?

While the 3D now seen in digital cinemas and at home with the active shutter glasses is unequivocally superior to any of the primitive forms of 3D that have come before, there is a weakness. 3D is dim. Digital Cinema targets for 2D call for 12-14 ftL of light output off the screen. 3D for digital cinema’s target is closer to 4.5 ftL with the glasses on, which is very dim at roughly a third the light output of a 2D presentation. While 3D effects can be impressive, to be frank, this sucks. Both Up and even Monsters vs. Aliens suffered from excessive dimness theatrically. I recall being blown away by seeing these movies on Blu-ray in my home theater in 2D, where I could finally see all the rich detail in the character animation. But again, this is a complaint against the presentation not the merit of 3D per se. And really, as picky as I am about image quality, it’s not like I don’t always have nits to pick with 2D theatrical. And Monsters Vs. Aliens has looked spectacular in 3D flat panel and front projection home theater demos I’ve seen.

I do have to note the IMAX exception for 3D theatrical presentation. If I’m compelled to see a 3D movie theatrically I cough up the dough and get in the car and drive to a theater with a dual-projector Digital IMAX 3D presentation (and I mean it- I have a 10-screen all digital cinema 10 minutes away, but IMAX is at least 45 minutes away in either direction). The IMAX digital projection setup solves the light output issues and delivers the pop. 3D in Digital IMAX theaters is amazing. Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon were marvelous presentations that earned the extra bucks and time I spent.

3D at home with flat panel TVs, with the active shutter glasses is also dimmer than 2D. But even then with the flat panels we’re testing we’re seeing 10ftL or so off the screen measuring through the glasses. That’s lower than the 25-30fL we’re seeing with 2D we’re seeing with 2D on the same sets, but still acceptable with good control over room light. And that’s still twice as much light as you’ll see from most 3D D-Cinema showings. And the 3D effects are every bit as good as in the theater or better.

So, my question this week is for the haters. Do you dislike 3D on artistic grounds, or because of the current technical limitations of the presentations as related to dimness, nausea, or something else I haven’t thought of? Are you burnt because you just bought a new HDTV, and don’t want to upgrade?

PS- don’t tell me you don’t like 3D if the demo material you’ve seen hasn’t included clips from the best feature film Blu-ray 3D material like Coraline, Monsters vs. Aliens and A Christmas Carol. Some of the 3D demo material out there looks awful. Some early Blu-ray Disc demos weren’t good enough to move equipment either. Same as it ever was.

Roy's picture

My primary issue with 3D in new televisions is that it's not about consumer demand for home-based 3D - it's about television manufacturers and content providers trying to find a new revenue source by cramming 3D down consumers' throats.You have to buy a new TV. My year-old Denon AVR doesn't have HDMI4, so I'll have to use a kludge and feed one cable to the AVR and one to the TV or buy a new AVR. If I have 3 or 4 people over to watch sports in 3D, I'm going to have to spend another 400 bucks for 4 sets of shutter glasses. Should you let your kids wear the glasses or will it screw up their vision? You've already covered the brightness issues, which aren't minor.Simply put, it's a technology that's not ready for prime time and, I'd imagine, of marginal value to most consumers. I don't blame the industry for trying to make money. I'd just rather see them make TV's with higher resolutions that could display HD content in 4K glory. THAT would be worth

Jerry's picture

Shane,Yes on the artistic merit question, and also one more caveat. In my opinion, there is just no way that 3D won't eventually dumb down all cinema to its lowest common, money making denominator. Its all going to be about special effects, easy-to-digest stereotypes, and crowd pleasing crapola-- damn the story and character development. We're already dangerously close to that tipping point of no return.Much like Star Wars or Jaws started the quest for the next blockbuster, and ended cinema's Golden Age, this will do the same.The other caveat is the possible problem with young children three and under getting an eye condition called strabismus from watching 3D movies. Because of young children's immature eye muscles and the way 3D forces the eye to focus differently than it normally would, they are especially prone. This whole thing has been swept under the rug (not by you) and I find it troubling. I hope you will explore this issue at some point, here or in your magazine.

Scott's picture

Not to discount the list of technical issues and the need for new equipment, but my primary objection is artistic. I simply find 3D distracting, taking away from my immersion in the drama and shifting to the 3D effect. Effects of any kind should be so seamless that I do not notice them as effects. This just does not work for me with 3D, at least to-date. Just the act of wearing glasses kills it for me. Until the technology improves greatly and the artistic use of 3D is as well evolved as current 2D cinema, I will take a pass.

Steve's picture

Both!Plus, to me, it's a gimmick to get people to buy another round of equipment upgrades.I've been to state-of-the-art demos at 2 CEDIA shows, and have found no compelling reason to trade hi quality 2D presentations for 3D. Sure, Monsters v. Aliens had some neat effects. Clip from the new Tron also looked good. But those are animations & CGI based. Any demo I've seen of "reality" film based movies, with real actors, looks fake to me. People & foreground objects look like cardboard cutouts and backgrounds lose their illusion of depth and become flat looking. Wearing glasses, dimness & slight motion issues are reasons, but not the main ones to me. Artistic presentation is most important and fake looking scenes are not the answer to quality home theater. Home 3D is not for me. But I do agree that in an IMAX theater, with the proper content, it could be awesome.

Ron W's picture

There is no question in that this is all being introduced to try to force people to spend more money, however, I think in this case the product manufacturers "may" have outguessed themselves. The problem still and probably always will exist in terms of content is exactly how many movies can "realistically" take advantage of the process? As has already been stated other than some action movies and animation, is someone going to watch a comedy,drama or "chick flick" in 3D with glasses on? What's the point??

Jerry's picture

Ron W: Better stated than I ever could. 3D is another money grab with no real merit other than financial. I hope it dies soon, before too many people have wasted their hard-earned dollars on this junk, and a generation of kids have to wear corrective lenses.What surprises me is the fascination that intelligent guys with audiophile tastes like Mr Buettner have for it. Too many REAL movies won't benefit one bit if they "went 3D". Roger Ebert's piece on the subject is a good read if anyone is interested.

Jarod's picture

My point is simple. When 3D is done right it is an absolute blast! That's not to say every movie should be in 3D. I feel that certain scenes, such as shots that show distance in the background and flying scenes, are so much more enveloping and compelling with 3D. As thoroughly noted, the dimness of 3D is its achilles heal. But my local theater has a RealD 3DXL projector, which has a souped up light engine tho not as bright as an dual projector Imax setup, that is much brighter than Dolby3D presentations of the same movie on a similar sized screen. So dimness is not an issue for me with 3D as it is when I see a 3D film with Dolby 3D.

Cal's picture

I have enjoyed 3D movies at the theater, but I don't think it translates to the home, the screen is so much smaller. Having to fork out $150.00 plus for glasses so everyone can watch is a big draw back as well. And there is very limited content out there for it right now. I realize if this takes off there will be more, but I think to jump on the 3D band wagon now is too soon. On the upside, as one person commented on your last blog, the prices for quality 2D televisions have dropped and will continue to drop as long as this fad stays popular.

Shane's picture

Jerry- the reasons I'm fascinated are that the best examples of 3D I've seen, where the filmmakers were pushing the envelope- Avatar, MVA, A Christmas Carol, and even Beowulf- were excellent. I'd like to reproduce that in my home. I generally agree that computer animation- which includes Avatar, BTW- fares much much better than live action. But I've no problem with that. I've got kids and we watch a lot animation on our movie nights here. Plus, how many times do you break out the Pixar movies when demo time comes at your house and you want to show off your system?

Shane's picture

I'd also like to make this position clear. I've no interest whatsoever in seeing a revival fad with 3D. I couldn't have yawned any wider or longer than when I heard Star Wars and Titanic are coming in 3D in 2012. I don't need to see Casablanca in 3D either thanks very much. It's particularly infuriating that we can't even get the original unaltered Star Wars movies we grew up with on Blu-ray, but instead time and money is being spent converting these movies to 3D. Oops, I feel another Blog coming on...

Justin N.'s picture

I dislike 3D at Home - at the movies, it can add a bit more livelihood and enjoyment to the presentation, though you won't see me turning down a movie simply because it is/isn't 3D. At home, however, it's a different story: most consumer-grade 3D setups require Active Shutter glasses, which give me one of the worst migraines I've experienced inside of five minutes due to the constant flicker. To me, the technology is unusable. Some manufacturers have made strides with at-home passive technology similar to Theaters, but the requirement of a silver screen (And $15,000 to $50,000 for the projector, a realm far outside the "normal" consumer) kill it as well due to cost and size (The need for two screens, no flat panel options, etc). Combined with the lack of quality content outside of PC Games, and you're stuck with a subpar experience at a prosumer price tag. I'm perfectly fine in my 2D realm at home for now, thanks.

Justin G.'s picture

I want to like 3D, but it just doesn't work for me. I can see in 3D if the image is relatively still, but once it starts moving, it becomes blurry and jittery - like the frame rate is at 10 fps. This has been the case in the movie theater and watching demos at Best Buy.

Matt's picture

The Glasses! Thats what I don't like about 3D right now. They are expensive and really who wants to sit around their house wearing these stupid glasses. I willthey come out with one that do for sure buy a 3D TV when esn't use glasses.

morrismrinak's picture

My main gripes with 3D TV are:1. The Glasses. I already wear glasses.2. New format that is still evolving. Possible incompatiblity with future products.3. Looks fake & distracting on film based content.4. Requires all new video components. I'm just not ready to spend the money to upgrade.Although animated content looks great 3D is notgreat enough to get my vote or money... yet.

Bob (LOTR)'s picture

3D is a great new technology, but that's it; it's just too new yet. Let's wait another 3 years or so...The best advantage of 3D is that is gets 2D a great discounts. So, for that, thanks to 3D. :)

Scott Atkinson's picture

I second the emotion of the nay-sayers, and as much as I like Home Theater, I think you folks have failed to take a long enough, hard enough look at the issue.Yes, you have made room for the anti-3D folks and yes, you have written some pieces that allow for at least a little skepticism. But I have yet to see a round up that outlines all the outstanding issues associated with 3D in one place, and asks some hard questions of industry folks.Let's start with - was 3D invented (reinvented) as life support for blu-ray?Scott A.

Shane's picture

Scott-That's a bit much.First, Blu-ray is doing fine and doesn't need life support from 3D. But beyond that, 3D was invented decades ago. It's recently made its strongest pitch yet to permanently take hold, and its strongest proponents have been filmmakers like James Cameron. 3D is only making inroads in the home now because it's wildly successful theatrically. obviously there's a commercial element to that, but let's face it. Whether it's an art film or a Hollywood blockbuster movies are made to make money. Hardware manufacturers produce goods to sell to make money. I don't begrudge them that. Our job is to decide whether those goods are worth spending money on. For me, just as it is in the theater, when 3D is good it's worth spending money on.3D isn't an "issue." It's a technology that replicates the theatrical experience at home.

Scott Atkinson's picture

Shane -I'm not trying to dip into the tinfoil hat brigade, but isn't it at least worth questioning why 3D got the push it did when it did? If my proposed question is a bit much, how about something more mainstream, like: what's the state of 3D standards at this point? Is there an agreed on *way* for 3D to be displayed, going forward? If I buy a 3D tv this year, how likely is it to be obsolete in the next three years - ie, if we reach the point where no glasses are needed, will I still be able to buy movies that work with glasses?thanks,Scott A.

John Nemesh's picture

I for one, LOVE 3D! I upgraded my Samsung DLP with the Mitsubishi kit (with the aid of a Gefen HDMI Detective), and I have been very much enjoying the experience! Monsters Vs. Aliens grabbed my attention when it was in theaters in part because it was touted at the time as being composed SPECIFICALLY for 3D. I must say, the extra effort paid off! The 3D effect is well used, and apart from one or two sight gags, its not used to shove objects right into your face. More impressive are the IMAX movies that were recently released (for now as a Samsung exclusive disc). Real life, filmed with TRUE stereoscopic cameras, gives an incredible viewing experience! Particularly good is the "Into the Deep" IMAX movie...like having a giant aquarium right in the living room!I also have been gaming in 3D quite a bit, with my PS3 and a few games they have released. Motorstorm and Wipeout especially are breathtaking! Jumping over a 500ft cliff or racing down a track at 400mph in 3D is quite the exper

Ed's picture

My personal take in not getting into 3D are...1. Lack of standardization among manufacturers. One glass wont work on another companies tv or interoperability.2. Too expensive glasses. If you have your whole gang watch movies.. you are limited by what you have and definitely no one will buy one just to watch that movie during movie night.3. Their exclusivity. These companies try to be exclusive for one particular movie. Come one, if I bought one already and a next movie is exclusive to another company, will I buy one again? NO!4. Future proofing. Since there is no standard for interoperability. If the company later on decides they cut the product line, then you are stuck with a product that you cant upgrade.

Ricky D's picture

Shane, my personal reasons for being a 'hater' is probably for all the reasons you list above. I somewhat dislike 3D on artistic grounds to begin with, since it can too easily distract rather than engage. Current technical limitations do exist aswell. And yes - also because I've recently invested in high quality home cinema gear that doesn't allow for 3D. Though even if it did, I'm certain I would avoid it. I have to say though, that as an "event" or "experience" at my local cinema, digital 3D can be fun if done well, but it can just aswell ruin your night. I've seen around 6 3D movies at the theater so far and only 2 were well-made, in my opinion (Avatar + Monsters vs. Aliens). Both those films I find equally appealing visually in 2D though.As for a similar set-up in the home with glasses and a dim image - FORGET IT! I wish the home cinema market could concentrate on other issues instead. Home 3D have gotten way too much attention recently. To me, at best,

Steve Smith's picture

Who do I dislike 3D? Well there are several factors as to why I dont like it. First. I never cared for 3D in the first place. I hate having to have to wear glasses over my perscription glasses. Second I dont think its worth haveing to shell out more money on a tv when the one I have is simply awsome. 3D is a novelty the manufacturers in my opionn are trying to shove down peoples throats. They should have let Blu ray grow more before goin the 3D route. Lastly I would rather go and see a 3D movie at the theater before I watch it at home and the reason is the picture is bigger and you get a more immersive feeling. But in genral I have no time for 3D, never have and never will.

Charles Nelson's picture

I have just purchased a Samsung PN63C550 63" Plasma. We have 4 other Flat Panel TVs, 50" & 32" plasmas and 2 32" LCDs. We have 4 kids ages 15,14,11 & 8. We watch a lot of TV and Movies, some for fun and some critical watching.I looked at many displays from a lot of manufacturers, including displays HT suggests, 3D and 2D and I just decided for the extra $500, 3D wasn't worth it right now. I don't like the glasses and they are way over priced, even with a start up kit, I would need extra glasses for my crew. I watched Avatar being fed via a Samsung 3D BD player to the 2D display that I have purchased and the HD picture in 2D had plenty of definition for me. In fact it was mesmerizing. When I watch sports in HD and it looks like I am looking out of a window to the playing field, that's all the 3D I need. I don't need to feel the action or the scene is leaping into my lap. I'll be watching my new Criterion BDs and Inception BD in 2D, and loving it, when the new Samsung T