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Friday, May 28, 2010

3D: the Future of Entertainment?

On June 11, Walt Disney is revolutionizing television entertainment with the latest rendition of its popular ESPN brand: ESPN 3D, a channel totally dedicated to broadcasting 3D programs. To kick off its launch, ESPN 3D will broadcast 25 games of the World Cup, the world’s most popular sporting event.¹ In addition to soccer, sports fans will also be able to marvel at screen-popping slam dunks or bat-crunching homeruns that appear to be taking place right in their living rooms.

Carried by DirecTV, ESPN 3D is one of the world’s first channels wholly dedicated to 3D programming and is a sure sign that 3D technology is here to stay. Once thought of as a fad, 3D entertainment has been evolving for nearly 200 years.²

It’s been around longer than you think
The original concept behind the creation of three-dimensional images, stereoscopy, was invented in 1838. The technique was sporadically implemented in low-budget films as cinemas gained popularity in the early 20th century. However, the 1950s ushered in the movie industry’s first 3D era, with House of Wax and It Came from Outer Space showing off stereoscopy’s groundbreaking potential. Even some popular films, including Hondo and Dial M for Murder, were released in the new, exciting format. However, 3D sales constantly lagged behind 2D and still left a lot to be desired in the eyes of studio execs.

It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the film industry got another healthy dose of 3D. Movies, mostly sequels such as Jaws 3D and Friday the 13th Part III, used state-of-the-art technology to make moviegoers feel as though the action was popping off the screen. The invention of IMAX increased the popularity of 3D movies, especially in the late 90s. However, shooting costs limited the number of 3D productions being released to normal cinemas, that is, until recently.  

The turn of the millennium gave way to a new golden age of 3D technology. Advancements in computer imaging slashed 3D production costs and allowed movie makers to create the most realistic 3D experience to date. In 2010, some movies that didn’t plan on having a 3D release, such as Clash of the Titans, were given “3D makeovers” in an attempt to catch onto the success of other recent 3D releases.³


Films such as Avatar and Alice in Wonderland have completely revolutionized the film industry. Avatar, which has grossed $2.7 billion as of May 2010, was the first feature film to be shot with a digital 3D Fusion Camera System. Written and directed by James Cameron, who also brought audiences Titanic, Avatar gave audiences a new-age epic filled with themes (imperialism, environmentalism, individualism) they could identify with. The movie’s success has sparked a new, overwhelming demand for 3D technology that has extended beyond the big screen.

Earlier this years, electronics giants Samsung and Mitsubishi released the first 3D-capable televisions to retailers. Ranging from $1800-3000, Samsung’s 3D LED HDTVs will leave the wallet feeling a little light. Is a $500 or so markup too much for the latest in entertainment technology? Perhaps, but the launch of ESPN 3D and the eventual release of 3D films on Blu-ray might just be too tempting for consumers.

Two things to consider, though, is the amount of 3D content currently available for consumers and possible health risks involved with 3D television.

As of now, ESPN 3D is only carried on DirecTV and is the only 3D-exclusive network in North America. If it does well and the demand for 3D entertainment continues to grow, then we will certainly see more carriers offering more channels and content.

Also, in the weeks following the release of its new TV line, Samsung issued health warnings on watching 3D televisions. Though Samsung doesn’t explicitly state why, it claims pregnant women and people under the influence of alcohol should avoid watching the television in 3D mode. The set’s 3D glasses are also not to be worn while performing any task other than watching the 3D television.⁴

Video Games
Although video game manufacturers have yet to fully embrace 3D, they are prepared to pounce on its popularity. NVIDIA has already developed 3D-ready graphics cards for PCs. Nearly 400 PC games contain 3D materials, though the majority of gamers do not yet have the hardware needed to view them. While many gamers are willing to drop $150-300 on a high-end video card, most will grimace at the price of a new 3D computer monitor, which will cost between $500-600.⁵

What do you think?
Is 3D the future of entertainment or will it die out in time? If it sticks around, is 3D media valuable to libraries? If so, how can libraries fulfill the need for 3D equipment, such as 3D glasses? Share your thoughts below.


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