Written by Technology, TV


This afternoon, I’ll be watching Arsenal v Man Utd in 3D.
No – I’m not going to one of Sky’s un-named pubs which will be showing the game in 3D – instead I’ll be in the ground.
But with Avatar number one at the box office, and large numbers of exhibitors at the recent CES trade show showing off 3D TVs, the question must surely be when will 3D arrive and not if. Or is it?
When I was little, in my grandparents house I found and old box of photos from the turn of the last century. Obviously they were black and white, but they were stereoscopic images. Alongside the collection of photos was a viewer. You the photos in the viewer and one eye saw each photo – together giving the impression of 3D.
That’s still how it works today. With polarised lenses and the like in cinemas, or even using different colour lenses to display or remove information as in the old red/blue cardboard glasses.
The first time I remember television trying to do 3D was sometime around 1982. ITV was showing a series of films on Sunday afternoons – if my memory serves me – which largely dated from the 50s when one of the earlier 3D crazes had begun. You got your glasses with the TV Times and could watch the films in glorious 3D.
Not in our house you couldn’t. For starters, the edition of the TV Times that gave out the glasses was hard to get hold of, and then there was the small matter of our TV being black and white. I remember tuning in one afternoon to see what I was missing and realising that it was a dull western with a blurry image.
At the cinemas around the same time I could have watched Jaws 3-D or Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. I remember phoning up my local ABC (now a Tesco) to check that they gave out 3D glasses for the latter. But I didn’t go. It’s probably as well – the film’s awful (that’s why you’ve not heard of it) and the 3D was equally awful.
3D never died of course. It carried on improving, although seemingly largely limited to theme parks (e.g. Pirates 3D starring Leslie Nielsen) or IMAX films.
But now we’re in a new 3D age, where the technology has matured so far, that any certainly just about any animated film – and quite a few horror films – simply have to be made in 3D.
Nope – I still haven’t seen Avatar. Just that preview I described back in August. Indeed my 3D film going experience in its current incarnation is limited to that short, Coraline and Beowulf.
Those latter two films are set in slightly dark worlds which is just as well because the main issue I have with 3D is that it’s actually too dark. At the Avatar preview I saw, the vivid colours of the world Cameron has built were a bit “muddy” for me. Taking my glasses off, revealed how much light was missing.
And I should point out that I’ve seen all these films in state of the art surroundings.
Have I got especially sensitive eyes? I don’t know. I have 20:20 vision; not wearing contacts or glasses. But it’s clear to me that the picture is inferior even if we do get an extra dimension.
I’m fussy about things like visuals and sounds. I was once the only person in a packed cinema who bothered to complain that the film was being screened in the wrong ratio. Yesterday, nobody apart from me seemed to mind that the film was being shown in mono when it had clearly been mastered in Dolby Digital (or other) and the cinema was equipped with as much.
So to me, 3D films are inferior because they’re dark. And watching a film like that is a bit like watching a film on a sunny day in your living room with the light reflecting from your TV. You can watch a film like that, but don’t expect me not to draw the curtains.
Sky and TV manufacturers are now all racing to build 3D sets. They think that we’ll all want them in our homes. But I’m really not so sure.
Where do we stand in home entertainment? Well HD Ready TV sets are everywhere, although the technology moves apace and LED is to an extent replacing Plasma and LCD. And there’ll no doubt be OLED at some point too. But most of what people are watching on these TVs is not HD.
Sky’s current TV campaign is trying to drive that home. At best these TVs are being used to play PS3 or Xbox360 games in HD, and perhaps the odd Blu-Ray film. But only a relatively small number of people have HD either through Sky, Virgin Media or Freesat.
Freeview HD is due to launch any day now as the first Humax box becomes available, with the half the population being theoretically able to watch the World Cup in HD this summer. But there’s still quite a job to get people to actually hook up an HD source to their HD sets (and speaking personally – I’m not prepared to pay a premium for it).
Sound is also vital. People are less willing to install full home cinema sound kit into their rooms, leaving the irony of them having some fantastic pictures on their new super-slim sets, but awful sound. Sets that slim simply can’t put out good quality sound.
Buying a cheap receiver and plugging a few inexpensive speakers into it can make a colossal difference. But most consumers aren’t aware of that.
So now it’s onto 3D. I think the first question that needs to be asked is whether everyone is prepared to upgrade their sets again so soon? I’m not sure they are. HD Ready sets have only truly been mainstream for the last couple of years. And most have probably got another five or more years in them.
Then the next question to ask is whether you’re prepared to wear a special set of glasses at home to watch TV? I really doubt it.
3D has a wow-factor, but imagine the scene at home. You’ve found the remote, but not the glasses. Or you’ve got two pairs but not a third for the other family member. Sure they can go out and get more, but those ones your cinema sold you for 80p won’t work on your TV set.
There’s also the small matter that a single format hasn’t yet been determined for the home market.
I think that like the “fads” for 3D in the fifties and eighties, we’re going through another one now. With computer animation it’s actually somewhat easier to make a film in 3D so there’s a certain “why not” attached to doing so. You just have to render the “other eye”. And of course, they earn you more in revenue. But it’s a craze. And I think I’ll take a pass. There will be some excellent photos of people in pubs watching the Arsenal game though!