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3D Reaches a Tipping Point in Theatres: Is 3D in Homes and Even on Mobile to Follow?

As Hollywood revels in the success of the new animated picture “Up” that was released in both 2D and 3D, and the early 2009 release of “My Bloody Valentine 3D”, and with some Cannes Film Festival movie producer claims that this year’s festival was a “defining 3D moment” - we felt it was time to take stock of the 3D trend that may be past the theatre tipping point and on the horizon for both home and mobile viewing.

There were a dozen or so 3D films screened at Cannes this year almost half of which were produced in Europe. There is an estimated twenty or so “Indie” 3D pictures in production, and oh by the way – it’s not just for the animated and anime genre pictures any more. Many of these same backers are now also claiming that 3D economics now makes 3D movie making and profitability possible, and that 3D films in 3D theatres gross two to five times what the 2D versions of the same films do. Grosses for 3D films are growing.

What is critical in the world of cinema and theatre going is the proliferation of both digital and 3D-capable theatres. Sony and NEC both are prominent in producing and delivering what are known as “4K” projectors that are digital-enabling and follow-on generations that can deliver 3D cinema to a critical mass of viewers. Sony is in a dominant position currently having signed contracts with two of the three largest theatre chains in North America. More specialized and independent content production vendors are also cropping up also like “3ality” and 3DTV Solutions. But while this all is critical to 3D success in theatres, what is not discussed as publicly is the very involved 3D movie and TV production process, especially when applied to non-animated genres. 3D in effect means new rules for (quality) content producers and directors.

Should you doubt the present-day possibilities and its application, especially applied to “human story telling” genres compared to when 3D movies were first introduced over fifty years ago, take it from three of the biggest directors in today’s world of cinema – Jeffrey Katzenberg, James Cameron and Steven Spielberg (aspect ratio – a cinema blog). Katzenberg and Cameron are totally sold on 3D filming while Spielberg is more selective in its use. The “Déjà vu All Over Again” blog is a very telling read (“Stereoscopy” is the key technology and capability these days).

Where migration is expected into the home and mobile eventually, standardization efforts may be key. The SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture Television Engineers), the SCTE (Society of Cable Television Engineers) and the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) among others all have task forces and working groups devoted to standardization.

The growth of 3D looks inevitable. All eyes are especially on the consumer electronics industry. The above picture is of LG Electronics’ first 3D TV - the 47-inch 47LH50 LCD, set to be released into the Korean market next month. It is not a coincidence that South Korea is the most advanced broadband nation in the world! LG in fact estimates that the 3D television market will exceed 30 million units by 2012. May be a bit optimistic. What about mobile application? Europe again may be leading, in as much as research is concerned, ala the EU-funded Mobile3DTV project. A strange argument is being made by a spokesperson claiming the viewing conditions warrant not as exacting technical requirements, and that with the viewing mode being more personal and the display size so small that users can adjust the display position for the best viewing experience. Maybe. The story of 3D television for mobile phones is like the “bigger picture”, one punctuated by starts and stops. Sharp launched a 3D mobile phone in Japan in 2003, Samsung provided a product for SK Telecom in South Korea in 2007, and Hitachi has launched one this year. Apple’s iPhone supposedly supports 3D television, but must be viewed with glasses.

Finally, what about those 3D glasses and will they always be required for viewing in 3D? I don’t yet know the status for traditional and stationary displays, but the Mobile3DTV project is suppose to be developing “auto-stereoscopic” displays that will produce 3D images without the awkward glasses to view them. Sign me up for that!

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