Six Things You Need to Know About 3D in 2018
When it comes to movies, there aren't many things that are more divisive than the use of 3D (Except for the Star Wars prequels). Those who love it love it. Those who hate it hate it. There's plenty of misinformation and assumptions to be found. But now, over 13 years after the current iteration of 3D made its comeback, how are things faring, how can you use it, and what is it all about? Here are six basic facts about 3D in 2018.
3D and VR are not always the same thing
With the recent VR (virtual reality) trend came some confusion. Most of today's VR devices require a smartphone to be put inside them, with half of the screen showing an image for your left eye and the other half for your right eye. However what is on those screens can differ.
360° content enables you to look all around you in any direction, but most content is flat, 2D. There are some apps, games and even one somewhat pricey consumer camera that enable recording in both 360 and 3D at the same time, but this is the exception.
VR devices can be used for traditional 3D content, but we'll get to that later.
3D is depth perception
One common summarization of 3D in the public consciousness is that it is defined as things coming at you or things leaping off the screen. This can be true, but it's a gross oversimplification.
3D is depth perception, nothing more. It is what you see every day, as long as you have two healthy, functioning eyes. Sometimes things are close up but more often than not they're far away, and stereo vision is always subconsciously used to enhance clarity and our perception of shape and distance.
As such, being both mundane and beautiful at the same time, it can't be arbitrarily asserted that 3D is only suited to certain genres like animated or action films. Actually, 3D's intricacies can be even better appreciated in slower sequences.
3D conversions aren't a bad thing
One myth that has been perpetuated and still has a foothold among some is that 3D is only worth watching if it's filmed in that way from the beginning, with a twin lens camera. However it's worth noting that no 3D movie conversion has ever been done automated, only manually by artists. (I know, because I dabble in this myself.)
One thing that may have contributed to conversion's bad rep was that in the early part of this decade when 3D movies were starting to get mainstream after the success of Avatar, a number of films that were never planned to be released in 3D had a last minute conversion. Due to limited time to complete them and lower budgets, they were usually on the subtle side. That doesn't mean they were bad. I've seen a couple of them and, while not nearly as powerful as other conversions, they were accurate and an improvement nonetheless.
Nowadays though, the whole thing is irrelevant. Not only are most 3D films planned on being converted from the very beginning, but the methods and quality have leaped to the extent that the conversions of today, which make up most 3D movies, look just as good or often better than one filmed that way, giving the filmmakers more creative control.
3D needs to be 3D
On that note about conversions, it's worth emphasizing that at this point in history there is no software in existence that is capable of converting media into 3D without human intervention.
If you want to watch 3D, you'll need a 3D movie on Blu-ray, a 3D video game with everything set up properly, a 3D stream from cable or internet or 3D content you record yourself with a 3D camera or camcorder. The automated 2D to 3D feature on your TV or that great cheap 2D to 3D software you see online is for a fact too good to be true.
Outside of Blu-ray 3D, stereoscopic video is usually delivered with the left and right eye views squeezed into a single HD video, with side by side being the most common and over and under coming next. One thing to beware of is that some YouTube videos have been converted to so-called 3D by simply putting the same video side by side for viewing on a VR device. Please note however that the resulting video will still be flat, as 3D images are slightly different than each other, from different perspectives.
3D tech is established, so don't wait for glasses-free
Anaglyph 3D, the kind where you wear red and blue glasses, has always been a compromise that degraded the picture quality and lessened the potential effect. However what many don't realize is that the two major quality 3D viewing methods used today have been in place since almost the very beginning.
Shutter glasses, which flicker the left and right views in sync with electronic eyewear, were first used almost a century ago and resurged for home consumer use in the 1980's with the invention of LCDs. They have been on the market ever since.
Polarized glasses, which are simpler and allow a brighter picture, were used back in the 3D craze of the 1950s all the way up to the present. Now however, they're the most popular format used in movie theaters worldwide and on 3DTVs.
If you're waiting for that elusive glasses free 3DTV that's always just around the corner, you may be in for a long wait. While such technology does exist on some cell phones and most notably the Nintendo 3DS, such screens are intended for one viewer at a time. Working with a bigger screen with multiple viewers and viewing angles that wouldn't overwhelm an average consumer is something that a whole other article could be written about. Suffice it to say, don't hold your breath. The technology used today is probably older than you are and provides the best picture quality for the best price. Maybe sometime down the road, just maybe.
3D isn't dead
One favorite headline seen every year since it's latest rebirth is that 3D is dead. While it's true that the concept of 3D television shows never got off the ground, 3D movies are bigger than ever and a standard release format for most tentpole films that filmmakers don't think twice about. Actually, 3D movies have been released on home video non-stop since the beginning of home video itself, starting with field sequential VHS, Laserdisc and DVD for use with shutter glasses. Since then it has remained a steady but niche market.
With every new 3D movie comes a new Blu-ray 3D, the notable exception being Disney who at times releases particular 3D movies on home video overseas exclusively where the market may be bigger. These can still be imported cheaply, however. If streaming or downloading is more your thing, Vudu offers many 3D features and shorts, some of which are available nowhere else.
Nowadays, if you want a 3D television, the feature is often only available on pricier high end 4K HDR TVs. If you missed out on the wave of cheaper 3DTVs a few years back, other options include the Edison 3D converter box or Nvidia's 3D Vision kit (which converts any HDTV or monitor, respectively, to one that can use shutter glasses). Or if you want to build a home theater, 3D is available on more projectors than it is televisions, and at a much cheaper price.
Going back to VR, any smartphone (preferably with at least (1080p resolution) can be used as a 3D personal cinema for videos in side by side format. Just view videos from YouTube or movies from your own collection (legally, of course) through a VR headset. PlayStation's new VR headset also allows direct playback of Blu-ray 3D discs.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
I have a 3D TV which my wife and I love. You mentioned that 3D Blu-rays are still sold overseas. Is the quality the same as in the U.S.?
Yes! The quality is identical to what you'd get here. Most Blu-ray 3Ds can be bought from amazon.co.uk fairly cheap, sometimes cheaper than the US would've charged even when you include import fees and shipping. Just always check that the 3D disc is Region A or Region Free/0. The notable exception would be Ratatouille which is sometimes advertised as Region Free when it is Region B locked, but if you buy a Region Free disc player, even that doesn't matter.
What are your thoughts on 3D digital copies?
As for 3D digital copies, sadly, I don't see any additional effort or improvements being put into 3D technology other than what is already there or is incidental to other technologies.