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Is 3D in trouble?

Ben Parfitt
Is 3D in trouble?

James Cameron’s Avatar was a watershed moment for entertainment.

It generated $2.73 billion at the box office – 90 per cent of which came from 3D screens. And almost overnight the TV, film and video game worlds rushed to embrace the new 3D phenomenon.

In February, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony began to roll-out their 3D TVs. Cinemas worldwide upped the number of 3D screens from 5,000 in December to 8,500 today (according to Screen Digest). Meanwhile, the games industry unveiled a huge array of 3D games – Killzone 3, Crysis 2, GT5, to name a few. And that’s not to mention 3DS, which wowed the media at E3 last month.

Whereas once it was considered a novelty, 3D is now viewed as a key part in the future of entertainment – and consumers are already responding. Screen Digest claims 25 per cent of UK box office revenues this year have come from 3D movies, and the firm predicts that 187,000 3D TVs will be in UK homes by the end of 2010 (3m worldwide).

“People have tried 3D before and it failed,” said Screen Digest’s senior analyst for TV Daniel Simmons.

“The reason it looks like it will succeed this time is because all the elements are ready. You can make 3D content, you can display 3D content and you have the technology to distribute 3D content. It’s all in place.”

However, there are significant doubts about whether the success 3D has seen at cinemas can translate to the home.

For one, consumers have only just upgraded to HD, and it’s going to take something big to encourage adoption of another large, flatscreen TV – especially as 3D TVs currently cost over £1,000.

“If you look at the stats, only 20 per cent of HD TVs actually have HD content going through them,” added Simmons.

“People bought them not because of the HD, but because they wanted a big flatscreen TV, which they now all have. So it’s going to take great content to encourage people to upgrade to 3D.”

Another issue for 3D to overcome is the sheer number of people who can’t or shouldn’t view it. Both Nintendo and Sony have warned that young children should not view 3D because their eyes have yet to fully develop. Sony stated that parents should at least check with a doctor before letting children under six play its 3D games.

Meanwhile, recent studies have revealed that 12 per cent of the UK population can’t even see 3D correctly.
3D technology relies on our eyes’ ability to work together to achieve a perception of depth. And according to research from The Eyecare Trust, more than one in ten of the UK population (around six million) have a visual impairment that means our brains are unable to process the 3D images.

“For these six million people it’s like taking the 3D glasses off and seeing everything all blurry,” said Eyecare Trust chairman Dharmesh Patel.

“You try to see the image but you can’t and that causes the headaches, eye-strain and blurred vision. And there will be people who have not attended an eye examination in years and won’t even know why they can’t see it.”

Charlotte Jones, senior analyst for Cinema at Screen Digest added: “Poor 3D vision is going to be a significant factor for the home. It’ll also impact content that is exclusively supplied in 3D, which some of it has been in the cinema.”

On top of concerns about who can and can’t see in 3D, experts say motion-controlled games may also be incompatible with 3D titles. Simmons says that certain 3D games for Wii, Move and Kinect may not work because moving around would “spoil the 3D illusion”.

To encourage consumers to wear the silly glasses and splash out on the expensive TVs great content is needed, and so far there’s only been a handful of releases.

For film, it’s been all about James Cameron’s Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, while in games only Ubisoft has entered the space with its Avatar movie tie-in.

“Ubisoft has had a stereoscopic 3D game available to buy and play since last Christmas in James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game,” said Ubisoft senior brand manager Phil Brannelly.

“Stereoscopic 3D provides the gamer with slightly more information about the environment they’re in. It becomes both a more immersive and authentic experience. Your brain really wants to believe that what you’re looking at is a living, breathing entity.

“I have demoed Avatar to thousands of people on 3D TVs or 3D cinema screens, and the reaction is always positive. But then they ask how much for the screen?

“As the costs come down the sales will go up but it is incredibly important that film, TV and game companies make content for 3D.”

This content is coming. Sony has been involved in all areas of 3D, from the movies to the games to the TVs, and the firm is planning a string of big releases this Christmas – such as Gran Turismo 5.

Panasonic has also identified the need for 3D content. The manufacturer has a range of 3D TVs, supplies professional equipment to movie studios, and is also backing Direct TV – one of the biggest US pay-per-view operators – by sponsoring one of the firm’s three new 3D channels.

“The core issue for 3D is purely content,” concluded Simmons.

“This is where it will be won or lost. And games have a part to play. Video games were very important in driving HD take-up, and will be a significant driver for 3D, as well.”

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