A Brief History of 3D
When I posted a little feature on the recently-announced Nintendo 3DS and what it could mean for the future of 3D, I realized I'd never posted some thoughts I had on 3D after I saw Avatar last year. Bear with me as we travel back through the fourth dimension, time. ((Of course, thanks to the concept of space-time, time is no longer considered to be the fourth dimension.)) I never got around to publishing these paragraphs, because this was before I re-launched this site and I was questioning whether I really wanted to keep No Film School going. Here's what I wrote:
Everyone in the film industry is keeping close tabs on all things Avatar not only because it's a James Cameron film that might've cost 500 million dollars, ((But, of course, grossed nearly $3 billion...)) but because Hollywood is betting the future on 3D. Theatrical attendance has been trending downward for years, and young people increasingly spend their time social networking -- and, ahem, blogging -- in lieu of hitting the multiplex (some even social network in the theater, on their mobile phones). HDTV, Blu-ray, and home surround-sound systems have stolen much of theatrical's qualitative advantage, and the internet and VOD have stolen the convenience crown. Thus, 3D: a theatrical exclusive.
The question is, will 3D spread like surround sound (becoming a must-have for every theater), or will it spread like Smell-O-Vision (wafting nowhere fast)? I'm betting the former -- not because of existing consumer demand, but because the industry needs 3D to succeed to the point where they will manufacture demand at great cost. And while RealD is a step above previous 3D incarnations, the technology is only going to get better. Higher ticket prices for 3D films are a huge positive for both exhibitors and distributors, and the overall exclusivity of the technology makes it a must-succeed for the industry.
But major studios and theatrical exhibitors aren't he only ones with dollar signs in their eyes. As with surround sound, 3D technology will eventually migrate into our homes via TV and computer displays. As a result, electronics manufacturers are salivating like so many prior Cameron inventions (meaning, Aliens ((Okay, so they weren't Cameron inventions, but I couldn't resist; technically they're Cameron via Ridley Scott via H.R. Giger.))), as they can sell you new 3D TVs and displays as well as 3D incarnations of playback systems like Blu-ray and other set-top boxes. Suddenly your HDTV you were otherwise happy with needs to be replaced, and your wallet needs to be emptied. As with any new technology, these 3D displays and boxes will be priced at a premium over previous-gen technology, and the downward-trending pricing cycle will begin anew at a much higher price point (with correspondingly higher margins).
But 3D offers far more possibilities than just adding a third dimension to the passive experience of watching an immersive world unfold before your eyes, as in Avatar. The real future of 3D is unequivocally videogames. And not just displays: controllers are evolving from the original wired Nintendo handheld button-mashers into wireless, motion sensing controllers like the Wii and future offerings like Microsoft's Project Natal (which isn't even a controller, but rather a camera that senses your body movements, unencumbered by attachments of any kind). Combined with the increased immersiveness of 3D, these multi-axis, motion-sensing controllers point toward a future of virtual reality.
3D tech without glasses
As you can see, I abandoned the fourth paragraph, which was going to explore... 3D tech without glasses. I stopped writing because of the voice in my head that frequently asks "why am you spending so much time writing about technology?!?" Where I was going, however, was to wonder what a combination of motion-sensing controllers and 3D displays would look like (which is what I wrote about yesterday). Of course, most of what I was writing about after Avatar has already come to pass; 3D TVs line the shelves of electronics stores and ads for 3D TVs are everywhere. Microsoft's Project Natal is now known as Kinect, and will be arriving in November. The Nintendo 3DS won't be far behind.
Anyone interested in the Kinect or 3DS? I'm not particularly interested in handheld gaming, but I think this Nintendo DS-produced music video is amazing.