Are you ready for 3-D?
Published: Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 29, 2010 at 11:02 a.m.
Get used to the glasses.
Not just for entertainment
Advances in 3-D technology are being made in areas beyond centertainment. In medicine, for instance.
The University of Alabama Birmingham magazine in December published an interview with Dr. Bharat Soni, chairman of the university's Department of Mechanical Engineering.
In the article, he says, “At UAB, we're using this technology mostly for engineering and health care applications, but the possibilities really are endless.”
For instance, he talks about CT and MRI scans in 3-D. “A life-size image of a human pelvis rotates on the screen, turning 360 degrees to allow the viewer to examine it from every angle. Such images provide more information than the standard two-dimensional versions,” Grant Martin writes in the article titled “UAB engineers push the boundaries of 3-D technology.”
Soni also points out 3-D could be used in medical classrooms, reducing the need for cadavers.
- Rick Allen
No matter what - in the near term, anyway - you're going to need them if you're planning to plunge into the exploding world of 3-D, hurtling toward us at light speed.
Did we say exploding?
Consider: 3-D has energized Hollywood. Disney's “A Christmas Carol” and “Avatar,” two 3-D blockbusters released at the tail end of 2009, have combined for nearly $700 million in U.S. box office to date; “Avatar” continues to haul in titanic grosses worldwide, hitting $1.86 billion earlier this week.
And more 3-D films are coming out this year, including “Alice in Wonderland,” another “Shrek” sequel and “Toy Story 3.” Reuters reports this week that “Titans” and the final two Harry Potter installments - “Deathly Hallows” parts I and II this year and next - also might be released in 3-D.
Filmmaker James Cameron, who currently boasts the top two grossing films of all time in “Titanic” and “Avatar,” says he'll film only in 3-D from now on. So it's good that most multiplex movie houses in the United States now have at least one auditorium equipped with digital 3-D. Regal's Royal Park 16 in Gainesville and Hollywood 16 in Ocala each hold two 3-D auditoriums.
“We feel very strongly about the product,” says Chad Browning, a spokesman for Regal. “There is a growing demand for this product, and it's only getting better.” Moreover, Regal CEO Amy Miles told Reuters in late 2009 that “3-D outperforms 2-D two to three times.”
Consider: 3-D high-definition television was the talk of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month. Panasonic's new line of 3-D high-def plasma TVs were named the Best of Show by cnet.com, the exhibition's official awards. Additionally, Panasonic plans on a full-range of 3-D products: TVs, goggles, cameras and Blu-ray players.
Samsung and LG Electronics also say they'll introduce lines of 3-D HDTVs this year, as well as 3-D capable Blu-ray DVD players. Mitsubishi plans to release an adaptor to upgrade its older 3-D-ready TVs, making them compatible with the new Blu-ray players.
No prices have been announced on any of this gear by anyone, however.
Consider: ESPN and the Discovery Channel announced recently they would offer 3-D programming beginning in June; so did the DirecTV satellite system. This year's World Cup Soccer and Major League Baseball's All-Star game will be broadcast in 3-D.
Florida's victory over Oklahoma for the national title a year ago also was shown in 3-D at hundreds of movie theaters around the country. Unfortunately, no theaters in either Gainesville or Ocala offered the service.
That's just the beginning. The 3-D world around us is about to become more 3-D than ever. The question is: Are we ready - or, for that matter, willing - to plunge in?
Oh, and about those glasses: At least they'll be cool-looking, not the iconic cardboard red-and-blue things some of us remember or even the polarized, wrap-around shades we use at Disney. Rather, the 21st century 3-D goggles are sleek, high-tech shades tied wirelessly to the viewing screen.
“The goggles don't look dorky,” declared cnet.com's editor-at-large Brian Cooley when he presented the Best of Show Award to Panasonic for its new line of TVs. “That, in itself, is a technology breakthrough.”
What is 3-D?
We see in three dimensions: height, width, depth. That's because our eyes, set an average of 6.4 centimeters apart, see everything from slightly different angles. And our brain combines both views into full dimensional images.
But when things are depicted on a two-dimensional screen such as in a movie auditorium or home TV, we lose the full depth of image.
Stereography, depicting three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional plane, actually goes back further than most of us might imagine, to the 1830s. According to a history of 3-D by film historian and 3-D pioneer Ray Zone for creativecow.net, the first stereoscope was devised by Charles Wheatstone in 1838. Some 50 years later, William Friese-Green created the first 3-D moving pictures.
“He devised a dioptic camera with twin lenses that took two pictures, side-by-side,” Zone writes. “The remnants of his system survive today in still versions as the View-Master.”
Anaglyph stereography - OK, that's the red-and-blue or red-and-green glasses - came into play in the 1920s, notes John Rupkalvis, a pioneer in stereoscopic cinematography whose credits include “Spartacus,” “T2 3-D” and “Metalstorm,” which starred Kelly Preston years before she met her now-husband, John Travolta.
The current digital 3-D auditorium requires a digital projector and sound, a special polarizing filter in front of the lens to produce the 3-D effect and a special screen made of silver to project the image onto, Browning says.
Images on the screen without the special glasses appear fuzzy, as if out of focus. Yet with the glasses, you feel as if you're actually in the action.
And the headaches some viewers complain about? Rupkalvis says it's a matter of proper filming and projecting. “Headaches and eyestrain are usually caused by misalignment of the images,” he says.
3-D at home
The growing buzz this year is 3-D in our own living rooms, as early as this spring. Nearly a dozen different high-def televisions capable of handling new 3-D technologies - most of them 50 inches or larger - will pour into the showrooms within months.
In a gotechsf.com Webcast from the CES, Panasonic spokesman Matt Frazer explains plasma technology was selected because “it holds motion better than any other technology for 3-D. It'll give you the best 3-D experience on the market.”
How it works, essentially, is the picture on the screen will constantly shuffle from right-eye view to left-eye and back, 120 times per second. The accompanying glasses have built-in shutters synched to the screen via infrared emitters on the TV so the correct image is viewed by the correct eye, Frazer says.
But is there a demand for 3-D in the home? Jorgia McAfee, vice president of operations for Crime Prevention and Custom Home Entertainment in Gainesville and Ocala, says yes.
“If Hollywood keeps putting out 3-D content, people will want to see it, not just in the theaters but in their homes,” she says. Noting the company carries and installs entertainment systems from stand-alone TVs to a fully integrated home theater costing a quarter-million dollars, she says there already are some clients “asking what's available. People are starting to ask questions.”
“The quality of these TVs is going to be phenomenal,” McAfee adds. “And it's likely to get better and cheaper as time goes on” - in case we've already invested in high-def and can't afford to jump in again right away.
Manufacturers also agree a demand is likely to grow, even as they continue to push their 2-D HDTVs. Notes Tim Alessi, director of new product development at LG: “We expect that as consumers become exposed and educated about 3-D, and as content availability grows, demand for hardware will also increase.”
Yet Bill Husted, who writes the Technobuddy column that appears in this newspaper, isn't so sure.
“Think of how 3-D would have changed your favorite movie,” he writes in an e-mail from Atlanta. “In my case, 3-D wouldn't have made the film better. It would have distracted from the story.
“If a director decides to use 3-D, then it becomes a tool. And tools are made to be used. The 3-D tool lends itself to special effects - sort of shock and awe at the theater.”
Moreover, in an online poll posted Jan. 17 by engadget.com, more than a third of the 8,500 responders selected “No way, it's a silly gimmick.” Another 46.9 percent picked “At some point, sure, but not in 2010.”
Such numbers don't deter LG's Alessi. “We think that 3-D will provide such an immersive and compelling viewing experience,” he says, “it will be only natural for consumers to want to be able to experience it in their homes.”
Contact Rick Allen at email@example.com.
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