Friday, February 11, 2011

A Whole New Dimension

An attractive alternative to sunglasses?
My first experience of 3D, like many others, was using the blue and red filtered glasses on a very fuzzy image. Glasses on, voila! The third dimension! Of course, being a kid, the glasses were often destroyed (and/or eaten) shortly afterwards - rendering the image completely useless.

How does it work?

Creating depth perception on a still image was solved using a very simple method. By tricking the brain into seeing two different images - one through each eye - it interprets the picture to have a faux depth. The eyes see two different images because of the red and blue (or later, cyan) filters - the red filter blocks out part of one image and the blue filter blocks out part of the other. By having an overlap between the images, the brain is aware of the connection but is unable to comprehend them as coming from the same position - hence creating depth perception.

Why has 3D only just hit cinema?

Despite 3D being seen as a whole new invention in cinema as it hits the mainstream, the first feature length film was Bwana Devil - first shown to America in 1952. As with the intake of most new technologies, this film was only created out of luck; despite initially turning down the thought of 3D, MGM's head of the camera department, John Arnold, managed to convince his superiors that it was worth a try. As seen in this photo, the audience was held captive through its premiere.

Modern third dimension film uses the same techniques although observant cinema-goers will notice that the glasses no longer contain the iconic red/blue lenses and have been replaced with polarisation lenses. Nope, I don't understand it either, but luckily there is a Wikipedia article dedicated to the subject and it has lots of pretty pictures on it.

How Lenticular Printing Works
But why do modern 3D televisions not require glasses?

Modern televisions have one major advantage over the cinema - the screen shown directly to the viewer, while a movie shown at the cinema is projected onto a screen and back to the viewer. While this makes televisions restricted on the size for logistical and power consumption reasons, it does mean that the television can throw two images to the viewer without the need for fancy filters.

Showing more than one image requires there to be more than one viewing angle. This is best demonstrated in lenticular printing. By vertically splitting two images into strips and pasting back together alternately the screen can then be angled alternately to show different images to each eye.

If you think this sounds like a rather simple solution, then that's because it is. It has taken its time to enter mainstream television because the image sent to a 3D television is different to that of a standard 2D television, so as well as programmes having to be filmed in specialist equipment, the transmitter has to be set up to send a different image also.

The same method is used on the first handheld games console to employ 3D - the Nintendo 3DS - which will be released in March 2011 (UK).

Closer than you think, the future is
So what about the future?

Now that 3D is almost a mainstream product, manufacturers have sent their researchers into the field to dream up the next technology.

The "4D" experience at the London Eye is a step in the right direction. While not eliminating the need for polarising glasses, the attraction has gone as far as changing the environment around the viewer, involving them further in the 3D short film placed in front of them. There are screenings of Avatar in Korea being shown with this technology, "including moving seats, smells of explosives, sprinkling water, laser lights and wind" according to Variety.

Obviously a big advancement would be hologram-based films, where the audience can sit directly in the middle of an epic battle scene. Actually, this technology is a lot closer than you may think. As recently as last year - David Beckham - or rather a 3D hologram of him - introduced Adidas' bid to sponsor the 2012 Olympic Games in London. This, however, is still just one man, hardly moving on a small scale. Imagine the technology and cost that would have to go into millions of orcs fighting as in Lord Of The Rings. Immense.

Virtual reality, anyone?

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