With the recent release of "Avatar," the world of 3-D viewing has once again become part of our zeitgeist. Unknown to many, 3-D films have had a long history dating as far back as the 1890s. However due to costly hardware, the technical processes and a lack of standardized formatting, the popularity of 3-D films that emerged in the 1950s waned over the years. That is... until today.
Currently experiencing a world-wide resurgence coinciding with the development of computer-generated imagery, performance capture and hi-def video, films like Tim Burton's soon to be released "Alice in Wonderland" will follow suit with "Disney's A Christmas Carol" and "Avatar."
With so much history, how has the eye-wear technology kept pace with all of these the cinematic advances?
One of the first 3-D films to capture the imagination of large audiences was Universal-International's release of their first 3-D feature on May 27, 1953, "It Came from Outer Space," with stereophonic sound.
However, the technology back then was somewhat primitive. Notice the blurred visuals in this scene from the movie. Without 3-D glasses, people were definitely handicapped.
The 3-D glasses made at the time created the illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional surface. The traditional 3D glasses of the 50s have one red lens and one blue or cyan lens. 3D glasses made of cardboard and plastic were distributed at 3D movies. Another kind of 3D glasses used polarized filters, with one lens polarized vertically and the other horizontally. Polarized 3D glasses allow for color 3D, while the red-blue lenses produced a dull black-and-white picture with red and blue fringes.
Fast Forward to the end of the first decade of the new millennium, and instead of meteors flying into the audience, you have blue-skinned Na'vi shooting arrows at people in the first row and the balcony. However, some fifty-six years later, the technology has progressed a bit. Presently there are four companies fighting to become the dominant 3-D glasses' manufacture of choice. Each is exceedingly more advanced than the paper glasses worn to view "It Came From Outer Space." But the principle is the same. Each eye sees a slightly different frame of the movie, but the brain puts them together and assimilates the depth.
Today's technology also allows for movie producers to produce previews that don't require 3-D glasses. Here's a sneak peak of "Avatar"...
For "Avatar," RealD (one of the four 3-D glasses competitors) produced RealD 3-D Cinema Glassesover four million glasses for the movie's opening weekend in the US. According to a NY Times report, RealD’s glasses use polarized lenses and cost about 65 cents each. and while MasterImage 3D, another vendor, uses a similar technology, they have developed reusable glasses in addition to disposable.
Dolby Laboratories, the company behind theater sound systems, makes glasses that filter out different frequencies of red, green and blue. They cost about $28 each. The glasses of the fourth company, XpanD, use battery-powered LCD shutters that open and shut so each eye sees the appropriate frame of the movie. Those cost as much as $50 each
MasterImage 3-D Disposable GlassesMasterImage 3-D Reusable GlassesDolby 3-D glassesXpanD's 3-D Glasses
The battle over what glasses audiences will wear is a big deal because manufacturers are convinced that 3-D, while seeming like a movie-goers promotional tool right now will be soon be available in the not so distant future for TV viewing. So, the competition regarding which glasses will become the market leader may well intensify because TV makers are now pushing 3-D TVs for the home as a way to increase their sales of more expensive sets. And RealD is using its theatrical expertise to enter the home entertainment arena as well. If 2009 was the year of the return of 3-D in the cinema – then 2010 could be the year of TV 3-D viewing at home. Stay tuned couch potatoes!
RealD TV of the future