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The truth about 3D: Is it really ready?

We look at why the technology may not be as advanced as manufacturers claim

This year vendors are pushing expensive 3D displays, but the technology may not be as ready as they claim. We look at what's available and who needs it.

3D: Who needs it?

That brings us to another issue with 3D entertainment, one that doesn't get as much discussion in technical circles: the aesthetic and artistic problems that 3D introduces.

The size and detail of most scenes in a movie, especially on a big screen, create a 3D effect all their own. Add actual 3D to that, and you have to make a bevy of additional decisions. How often can you cut without disorienting the audience? What do you keep in focus? One thing? Everything? Do you try to make things pop out of the screen or instead sink into it, as director Werner Herzog plans to do with his upcoming 3D documentary about the Chauvet cave paintings?

Questions like these, plus the technical problems generated by 3D, prompted movie critic Roger Ebert to pen an essay for Newsweek where he decried theatrical 3D as a gimmick. It is a way not just to scalp ticket-buyers out of an extra £5 a head, he declared, but also a way to pressure theatre owners into buying the next generation of projection hardware.

Critic A.O. Scott of The New York Times stated that 3D seemed better suited to animation than to live-action, and that the "pop-out holographic effects feel more tacked-on" for "earthbound" 3D films like Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans.

In other words, a good 2D movie doesn't need 3D to make it even better, just as a good black-and-white movie isn't crippled by not having colour.

Another possible problem with 3D is medical, not aesthetic. An associate professor of ophthalmology was quoted on CNN.com as saying that about 20 percent of viewers who watch 3D content for prolonged periods of time experience vertigo and nausea.

It's possible to blame some of that on what happens when you take fast-moving content better suited for 2D and try to show it in 3D: viewers can't focus or track that's going on in front of them fast enough, and they become ill.

3D also seems to be that much more problematic for people who have vision problems like strabismus or who are photosensitive epileptics. The strobing effects created by 3D glasses may not be noticeable to most people, but those sensitive to it can have everything from headaches to seizures. 3D TV manufacturer Samsung has issued warnings about this.

NEXT PAGE: Gaming

  1. We look at why the technology may not be as advanced as manufacturers claim
  2. The history of 3D
  3. A new technology emerges
  4. 3D: Who needs it?
  5. Gaming
  6. Conclusions

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