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Thursday, January 12, 2012

3D Still Looking for Breakthrough

Over the past couple of years, the News & Views crew has kept you up-to-date with advances in 3D entertainment, both in the theater and at home. With the dawn of 2012 just behind us, it’s time for another look at where 3D stands and where it may be headed.

Just a Fad?
One question that has persisted throughout 3D’s rise is whether it really is the “next big thing” or just a passing fad. Several years in, the answer to that question is still not quite clear. One thing that is certain is that moviegoers have not fully embraced it as essential to the theater experience. When James Cameron’s Avatar blew up box offices in 2009, 80% of viewers ponied up the premium price to see it in 3D; in 2011, just 38% of audiences for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides did the same.1

There are a number of possible explanations for such a precipitous drop in 3D viewership. For one, Avatar was a one-of-a-kind visual experience, whereas Pirates of the Caribbean was the fourth in a series, the first three of which did just fine in two dimensions. In addition, some people (notable film critic Roger Ebert among them) have found they just don’t care for 3D.2 No matter the reason, though, there is no doubt that those in the film industry would prefer 3D box office numbers closer to Avatar’s levels.

3D Movies Are (Probably) Here to Stay
Despite the criticism and slower-than-expected adoption, there’s a lot of money to be made from 3D. That is the number one reason why 3D is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Between studios creating and/or purchasing 3D cameras and conversion processes and theaters investing in the projection equipment necessary to show 3D movies, there are a number of parties with a vested interest in continuing (and expanding) the 3D phenomenon.3

The challenge, then, is for moviemakers to learn how to use 3D in a way that is seen as more than just a novelty. Viewers don’t particularly want to pay premium prices and wear goofy glasses for 3D that doesn’t significantly enhance the whole viewing experience. Movie mogul Steven Spielberg agrees with this assessment: “[3D is] another tool in a very large tool chest…I think 3D should be used when there is something to be achieved from it, not just to be able to slam the 3D brand on a movie ad.”4

The good news is that a number of heavyweights are turning their attention to the 3D medium. Spielberg’s own The Adventures of Tintin reviewed well in 3D.5 Martin Scorsese recently bypassed his usual oeuvre of gritty gangster films to direct Hugo, a 3D family film that has blown viewers away.6 And of course, looming just over the horizon in December of 2012 is Peter Jackson’s return to the world of Tolkien with the first of his two Hobbit films (which sparked a point/counterpoint on the Forbes blog, debating the movie’s possible effect on 3D).

Of course, anything new is an unknown quantity, a gamble. Hollywood is dusting off a couple of big guns and bringing them back to the theaters in 3D in 2012. First up, George Lucas kicks off his project to convert the Star Wars franchise to 3D when Episode I: The Phantom Menace hits theaters on February 10. Then, in April, Avatar creator James Cameron will re-unleash his Titanic juggernaut.7 Those are two of the top-grossing films of all time; something tells me they’ll bring in a few dollars this time around, too.

Home Theater 3D
There’s a certain thrill in seeing a 3D movie in a theater; the large screen and dark auditorium create an immersive experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to keep trying, though. Just as with movies in the theater, there’s money to be made on 3D in the home, with all those blockbusters coming to Blu-ray and consumer electronics companies constantly producing new components to provide better and better video quality.

One of those components, usually, is a pair of 3D glasses for each viewer. That can be a detriment to those looking to adopt 3DTV as purchasing a pair of glasses for each member of the family can get a little pricey. That obstacle may be on its way out, though, as Stream TV Networks is getting ready to unveil its new Ultra-D technology that will provide glasses-free 3D.8 The company’s CEO, Mathu Rajan, anticipates “…a significant shift in the way people view media, comparable to the transition from black and white to color TV.”

Home viewing also allows for a broader array of content than just blockbuster movies. In addition to 3D programming already available from network such as ESPN and Disney, Panasonic and NBC have teamed up to broadcast the upcoming Summer Olympics in 3D.9

What Do You Think?
When you see movies in the theater, do you opt for 3D or 2D? How about when you watch movies or television at home? Does your library offer 3D Blu-rays, or have you had any patron demand for them? Let us know your thoughts on 3D in the comments section below.


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