Six Things You Need to Know About 3D in 2020
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 and sequels). Those who love it love it. Those who hate it hate it. There's plenty of misinformation and assumptions to be found. But now, exactly 15 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 2020.
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 some consumer cameras that enable recording in both 360 or 180 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 completely automated, but requires manual input 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 the last 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, because most weren't. While not nearly as powerful as other conversions, most 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, with no exceptions.
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 duplicating 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.
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 almost every new 3D movie that comes to theaters, a Blu-ray 3D version comes out several months later, and these can be ordered affordably from Amazon. Companies such as Warner Brothers and the 3D Film Archive have also undertaken restorations of vintage 3D movies that were filmed that way with early 3D film camera rigs. Several are available now, and more are coming soon. Vudu also offers many 3D features and shorts for digital streaming, some of which are available nowhere else.
While no new 3D flat panel TVs have been introduced in the last few years, 3D projectors continue to be made. Standard HD 3D projectors can be bought very affordably, and brand new have recently come to market that offer 4K, HDR and 3D. While unfortunately movies on Blu-ray today typically make you choose between 3D and 4K/HDR, the world's first 4K 3D Ultra-HD Blu-ray was released last year, projectors, and hopefully studios will begin to offer this type of content outside of specialty theaters which are already showing it, such as Dolby Cinema and IMAX 3D with Laser, which uses dual 4K laser projectors. available here
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 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
With no new 3D TVs on the horizon as manufacturers push 4K, won’t new 3D home video titles soon dry up completely? The only thing keeping them alive is theatrical releases until a manufacturer introduces a new generation of 4K TVs with 3D to differentiate them from the marketplace. Is there any hope of this coming?Helpful 1
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.Helpful 4
You note "Nowadays, if you want a 3D television, the feature is often only available on pricier high end 4K HDR TVs"- in 2019 I'm pretty sure this is inaccurate. Do you have an example of a new TV that features 3D?
You are correct, no new models support 3D. If you buy one used, like I did recently, your most recent options are 4K.Helpful 3
I’m a filmmaker and I wonder if you can please recommend two or three 3D conversion companies that do quality conversions but at a more economical price than LA based post houses. I used one in Germany some years ago but they went bankrupt. Do you know any offshore 3D conversion companies that do quality work at a low cost? Much thanks for your help!
Here is a company that it isn't clear where they're located or their prices, but they are likely cheaper:
Here's one from India that claims to be affordable:Helpful 1
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.