Thursday, 16 September 2010

My Future In 3D

Back in April, I made a discovery that was both relieving and slightly devastating (especially as a huge film fan). After seeing Clash of The Titans and carrying out a bit of research I confirmed a suspicion – I can't see 3D. I have had a “lazy eye” or amblyopia for as long as I can remember, being told to wear a patch as an exceedingly reluctant child. I've never been able to see Magic Eye images and wondered whether there was a link between this and my inability to understand the 3D hype.

A spot of googling and my hypothesis proves to be correct. To be able to see 3D, you need to have normal depth perception, “stereo-vision”. Stereo-vision is the ability for both eyes to work together simultaneously as a team. Twelve percent of the population have some kind of problem with binocular vision and less than five percent have severe visual disabilities. With my bone-idle eye, I fall into the five percent stat.

Making this discovery meant I could at least stop concentrating extremely hard to spot the difference in picture quality and just enjoy the film but brought up another fear. As old films are being hashed up and resold in 3D, sky launches a 3D channel and early 3D televisions are on sale, the craze is spreading and I'm fearful for my future. I envisage a world in which I'm surrounded by gasping folk making firework appreciation noises in front of a TV that holds hidden mysteries. A world in which to watch anything I have to re-embrace that unfortunate 80s' flip sunglasses trend and still don't get the benefit - when I put 3D glasses on what was once a blurred image, merely becomes as clear as a regular 2D picture. And my greatest fear of all? A world where 3D glasses become obsolete and us five-percenters are overlooked, left to watch head-ache inducing mish-mashed images.

A recent TV shopping outing to DirectTVs' showroom near Huddersfield finally allayed all these long-held and ever-growing fears. When finally picking up our first flat-screen dwarfed by a giant 3D Samsung TV, I was unable to hold back my bitter 3D rant. Specked up like me, the staff behind the counter quickly asked me why I was unable to see 3D. After listening to my explanation, they took much delight in explaining that 3D TVs use a different more advanced kind of technology to that used in cinemas.

3D programmes are filmed using two separate cameras which are next to each other, producing images from two slightly different angles. These images are then broadcast simultaneously and given depth using 3D glasses. 3D TVs differ to 3D cinema technology in that the glasses that accompany them do the work for your eyes. When viewers put glasses on and look at the TV, the technology in the glasses blocks the left lens and then the right - this happens faster than the blink of an eye. The images are then shown to each eye separately, creating a "staggered" effect that achieves far more lifelike 3D images. So for people whose eyes don't naturally work together, with these special control-taking glasses, 3D is finally a possibility.

Wearing Samsung's new battery powered “3D Active Glasses”, I was at first sceptical, unsure of what to look out for but when the champions of 3D behind the counter flicked to a particular scene, there was no doubting that I could finally see 3D. Watching one of Pixar's many animated movies, a red ball suddenly flew out of the TV. 3D Television is supposedly best utilised with camera shots that are lingering rather than frantic but for the sceptical and those experiencing 3D viewing for the first time, it's the sudden movements and action sequences that are most impressive and memorable.

Finally some insight into how 3D actually looks and I am no longer so fearful for my future. As I have only just become a flat-screener, a 3D TV is not on the cards any time soon but at least I know I can be part of an ever-growing gang should I want to be. 3D televisions are so expensive right now (a thousand plus) that I think I'll wait until prices drop, they become more commonplace in the average family home and the technology improves.

It is possible to convert normal televisions to 3D but as they don't possess the same technology as specialist 3D TVs the quality is no-where near as good. At the moment 3D TVs don't come with 3D glasses and are often merely described as “3D ready”, allowing viewers the choice of watching in 2D or 3D. At the moment each set of 3D glasses can cost you anywhere between £69.97-£99.97 so imagine what it would cost for the whole family to enjoy the same film or programme! The next issue is the fact that each manufacturer has their own 3D glasses that only work in conjunction with their TV sets so should you want to go round to a friend's house with a different TV brand, you'd have to have a different set of glasses or hope they have a spare. There's talk of TVs that don't require glasses but to enjoy quality 3D you currently have to watch square on - no group viewing without a pile-up and probably pretty depressing for five percenters like me!

I'm not going to install a glasses rack in my living room quite yet but at least I know that when Ikea's ornate holders are the new house-warming gift or Christmas stocking filler, I may not feel too resentful or frustrated receiving one.

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