3-D enthusiasm is anything but flat
Like high-def television before it, 3-D technology is ahead of its content, and consumers are hungry.
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In an effort to groom audience demand for home 3-D content, just this week NBC ran a trio of 3-D commercials during the Super Bowl and then on Monday night, a 3-D episode of the comic spy drama, “Chuck.”Skip to next paragraph
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But as many audience members who watched with the older cardboard glasses noted, the foray was a bit feeble. “I don’t like watching TV with those silly glasses,” says Erica Fedderly, a 20-year-old student at Santa Monica College, who says they also strained her eyes. Both of these are familiar complaints from past industry moves into 3-D, says Christopher Sharrett, a film studies professor at Seton Hall University, in South Orange, N.J.
Wertheimer notes, “The NBC experiments with 3-D were viewed almost exclusively on existing TV sets, but it was nowhere near the movie-house experience or what’s in our lab, which represents consumer homes of tomorrow.”
The peacock network didn’t do the technology any favors by rolling out such an “old-tech” effort, says Michael Meadows, president of home entertainment for New Wave Entertainment, a production and marketing firm in Burbank, Calif. Nonetheless, 3-D is what he calls a “game-changer” for the industry. “It’s so immersive, and in the home environment, it is really a dramatic and engaging step forward in terms of storytelling.”
Burbank-based 3ality Digital systems produced the NBC commercials and the TV episode. The company has been aggressively exploring new sources of 3-D content, including live pro sports events. “It’s way past the passing-fad stage,” says CEO Steve Schklair. “It’s like high-def.... Once you see it you don’t really want to go back.” He anticipates momentum building quickly as consumers get a taste for the results.
“There aren’t really a lot of technological barriers to get through,” says Mr. Schklair. The biggest challenge from a hardware standpoint is the dizzying array of encoding, playback modes, monitor capabilities, etc. – in other words, conflicting technical protocols between manufacturers, not unlike the old VHS-Beta battle. The Society of Motion picture and Television Engineers has formed a work group to make recommendations and has met with the researchers over at ETC.
While 3-D has a ways to go for TV consumers, video-gamers are way ahead on the experience. Gonzalez suits up with his Active shutter glasses and powers up a PC connected to a 3-D-ready screen. A weird, bottom-heavy critter cavorts through meadows full of waving flowers, evading a Tyrannosaurus Rex-like creature, all in vivid 3-D, despite the fact that the game, “Spore,” was not released with 3-D encoding. But Nvidia’s software can “backwards render” existing games, meaning that gamers are already able – with a modest investment in glasses, 3-D enabled screen, and the proper video card – to have a full 3-D experience using their existing library of games.
“The gaming world is leading the way on this,” says Michael Lewis, CEO of RealD, an industry leader in 3-D technology, “if for no other reason than they already know the potential of 3-D in the home and are pushing hard for it.”
Like others in the industry, Mr. Lewis says that while 3-D TV is not currently a mainstream home consumer option, it is coming in three to five years. “It replicates the way we see,” he says. “Once people experience it – the really best version out there – it’s what they’ll want.”