The coming of age of 3D?

3D movies have been around for 40 to 50 years, but the genre has never taken off.

Shooting 3D in film was very complex and 3D was often used primarily as a gimmick to make the movie different, not to tell the story.  Hence, few movies have been seen in 3D.

In the past decade, the big change has been digital technology that makes shooting, editing and fixing 3D video “footage” much easier. But Hollywood could not release many blockbuster 3D films because comparatively few theaters were equipped to project 3D. Today, at the end of 2011, half of the world’s theaters will have been upgraded to digital projection systems – which means they can all do 3D now. As this conversion takes hold on the remaining theaters, the market for 3D films will be much larger – that is, capable of being shown in most theaters.  Did you know that many movies shot in recent years were actually shot in 3D but only released in 2D?   Some of these may be re-released in the future as 3D movies or 3D TV releases.  Let’s hope ticket prices are appropriate and not excessive, a problem that is hindering consumer enthusiasm for 3D at this point.

In December 2012, Peter Jackson‘s movie version of The Hobbit will see Part 1 released. Jackson is shooting The Hobbit in 3D at 48 fps in “5k” (an HD image is almost 2K) using paired RED EPIC cameras. I have a hunch that this movie will inspire a lot more interest in 3D.

Separately, at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, 3D LCD TV displays and projection TV systems were everywhere. Gradually, their prices will come down and more and more consumers will have 3D capable systems. In the interim, you can watch 3D using red/cyan or other colored glasses on a regular TV – this approach is not as good as true 3D but its okay and its cheap.

Camera companies demonstrated 3D consumer cameras at CES. However, shooting good 3D is complicated and I we are a long ways yet from a truly satisfactory point and shoot 3D system for all purposes. Editing 3D also requires about 2x the computer horsepower and hard disk storage – not something every home video enthusiast will have readily available.

At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, in just two weeks, we know that at least one company will be announcing a glasses free 3D TV. Technology like this has been shown in the past but has not yet entered the mass market.

3D is coming. Will it just be a gimmick?

People said color movies were a gimmick. People said talking movies were a gimmick. Some even thought original B&W movies were a gimmick – after all, they were just a silent, B&W version of stage plays!

As all the pieces come together – good stories, good story telling skills, 3D production equipment and 3D viewing equipment, 3D will become an important part of future entertainment.  And my guess is that The Hobbit will change attitudes towards 3D – it is likely to be the right 3D movie at the right time.

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