Updated: 07/10/2014


You could say that in its various incarnations
 3-D has been struggling to "catch on" for more than 200 years. While 3-D in theaters has enjoyed modest success, the same cannot be said for 3-D television.

3-D Production

  Attempts to reproduce 3-D (three-dimensional)  images for audiences date back to the mid-1800's. The earliest 3-D images were made with drawings, long before the invention of photography. 

The basic concept of displaying separate images for the left and right eyes (just as each of our eyes sees a separate image) is simple. However, accomplishing it on a TV or theater screen in a way that is acceptable to audiences has been the problem.

Various techniques have been used throughout the years. (A good history of developments can be found here.)  

Because many these techniques caused eye strain or were otherwise deemed unsatisfactory to general audiences, they never caught on. For a long time 3-D was relegated to novelty experiences and included such effects as throwing spears at the audience.

>> For movie theaters this began to change in the early 2000's when Real D 3-D was introduced and high definition video cameras and projectors solved some of the previous production and display problems.

While theaters have had some success with 3-D, it has yet to catch on with home TV viewers.  Because of a lack of buyer interest the major TV set manufacturer dropped its line of 3-D sets in 2014.  It appeared that the hopes for 3-D finally catching on with the general public suffered yet another setback.

 > For tens-of-thousands of people around the world the "film," Avatar, was their first 3-D experience. AvatarDespite the comparatively limited number of theaters equipped to display the production in 3-D video (the film version wasn't as good, technically), the majority of people saw one of the 3-D versions. 

Although the film was the most costly film in history to produce, it garnered about two-billion dollars world-wide, setting an all-time box office record.  

However, when adjusted for inflation several earlier films are still ahead of it: Gone With the Wind, Star Wars, The Sound of Music, ET, The Ten Commandments, and Titanic.  None of which were in 3-D

Avatar is credited with opening the door to a mainstream acceptance of the 3-D medium. (Avatar  was released in 2-D,  Real D 3-D and IMAX 3-D.) 

Avatar was immediately followed by another 3-D film, Alice In Wonderland, in 2010. Despite weak reviews, "Alice" benefitted from a significant increase in the number of theaters equipped to show 3-D and it set an opening weekend box office record. In 2012 The Avengers, witch was also released in 3-D, set another box office record.


Savings In Going Digital

3-D screens led the box office to an all-time record $29.9 billion in 2009,  3-D movies constituted 11% of all business compared with 2% in 2008. The 3-D glasses helped rake in $1.1 billion, a 375% increase from the year before.

The success of Avatar was hampered by the limited number of 3-D equipped theaters.  Theaters that didn't show it in 3-D cited the expense of equipping their theaters for digital 3-D. More information on this issue can be found in the file on digital cinema.

Even though equipping a theater for digital 3-D costs more than $100,000, there are major cost savings in other areas. For example, the industry could save $1-billion a year by distributing movies on small hard drives instead of large reels of celluloid. A billion dollars would go a long way in helping out theaters move to digital technology.


3-D In Television

  At least one major TV set manufacturer started selling 3-D sets in March, 2010. 3D-ready TV sets can operate in 3D mode in addition to the regular 2D mode. Many of these sets were sold with Blu-ray players and come with one or more 3-D movies.

Allthough a major TV hardware supplier predicted that by 2013 between a third and a half of all TVs sold by the company will have 3-D capability when a major TV set manufacturer droped its line of 3-D sets in 2014, it was obvious that this goal was overly optimistic.

As of 2014, the biggest stumbling block still seems to be the various inconveniences involved in viewing 3-D television.

Although systems are being developed that don't require special classes, we have yet to see a system that is relatively inexpensive and allows wide viewing angles.

Two viewing systems for the current 3-D TV systems are normally used -- active and passive.

Active Some 3D TVs require battery-powered, synchronized glasses to process the 3D images.  Active Shutter glasses are more expensive than passive glasses (below)  and must be charged up every 6-8 hours. On the plus side, Active 3D is often more immersive, with a deeper depth-of-field—more like IMAX.

  Compared to the active glasses these are lightweight and flexible -- and much cheaper. The downside is that the 3D is usually not as deep and immersive as active shutter glasses.

In late 2009, a Blu-ray standard was finalized that made it practical for 3-D movies to be issued on the high-resolution disks for home use.

Sky TV a European, a satellite TV provider, announced that it would launch a 3-D channel in 2010. ESPN 3-D will showcase at least 85 live sporting events during 2010.  And early in the same year Discovery, Imax and Sony announced that would be forming a 3-D television channel.

One 3-D video camera model is shown on the left You will note that it is actually two video cameras arranged to pick up subject matter through a mirror arrangement -- somewhat  the reverse of what is used in modern teleprompters.

 >Initially, a technique of using red and cyan (blue-green) viewing glasses was used for TV -- the same technique that had been widely used for 3-D films, 3-D comic books and some video games. This is referred to as the anaglyphic 3-D technique.  Some TV stations, such as KTLA in Los Angeles, presented limited programming using this technique. 

The red and cyan filters allow the image (light) intended for one eye to pass while blocking light to the other eye. Thus, each eye sees a separate image. Although the technique works (at least to a large degree), it has a number of limitations -- not the least of which was that audiences found wearing the (generally paper) glasses annoying.

The 2011 NAB convention featured prototypes of large-screen 3-D TV sets that did not require special glasses.  Unlike other 3-D TV sets, the images held up at different viewing angles. Depending on such things as cost and availability, 2011 may end up being the "watershed moment" for 3-D TV.

3-D Production Issues

 > There are numerous issues with 3-D imagery -- especially in editing 3-D productions -- that are not encountered with 2-D. In particular, there is the problem of cutting between dissimilar 3-D scenes, which can create eye fatigue as the eyes try to repeatedly adjust.

As of 2011, this whole area remained rather fluid, and no solid rules or guidelines were in place. It hasn't helped that 3-D equipment and display approaches were in a state of flux with no uniform standards.

 > It is relatively easy to convert 3-D images into the standard 2-D images.  However, converting 2-D to 3-D introduces some major problems. The process is labor intensive and time consuming. Titanic, which was converted to 3-D in 2012 from the original 2-D version, is a good example.

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