Its all too easy to poke fun at the “3D revolution” that the media is currently raving about. Funny cardboard glasses that give you one red eye and one blue one notwithstanding, most cynics argue that we have seen this in the 50s, again in the 80s and it has always failed to impress. Its a technology associated with clever gimmicks on packets of Rice Crispies with a free pair of glasses inside, and film horrors such as Jaws 3D where the addition of body parts appearing to fly out of the screen at the audience does little to mask the generally abysmal content of this piece of cinematic detritus. But thats deeply unfair.
Modern 3D technology has moved on, and now films like Up! and Avatar are prompting renewed interest in the technology in cinemas. Gone are the coloured cardboard comedy glasses to be replaced by clear polarised lenses, which delivers a pretty much full spectrum to both eyes, while still ensuring that all but the least fashion-conscious will be relived to be in a darkened room. The same technology is now available to computer games, even Google Earth, and now rumours abound that broadcasters like SKY and the BBC are prepared to dig deep to bring 3D to broadcast television. But will it revolutionize the home viewing experience, or prove to be another technology for us to buy and never use?
“You’ll never watch TV in the same way again” scream pundits and electrical sales people. Now whenever anyone a salesperson tells me that something will change the way I do anything in a way that will make me “wonder how I ever managed to cope before it” my bovine excrement detector starts to wail like Moss Side car alarms on a Saturday night, because its usually an implication that unless I ditch my current – let’s face it, recreational – technology and drop a whole heap of heard earned on whatever fad they are peddling, my life will become empty and desolate, I will become a social pariah doomed to wander the streets eating out of dustbins and my children will grow up to be lepers languishing on the edge of civilisation. And all because I still watch in flatvision?
3D in cinema is interesting, and its a fantastic user experience the first couple of times but it is a gimmick. It adds to the experience, but as a viewer you very quickly adjust to the stimulus and the wow factor that you experience in the first 15 minutes has waned significantly by the closing credits. It also adds little to the content -in fact more often than not, it feeds the inclusion of pointless extraneous effects that exist purely to exploit the medium. Oh look, a yo yo has just come out of the screen. Very good. James Cameron’s Avatar is a no worse a film in 2D than in 3D, its just that momentarily the experiencing is more involving wich, in a cinema devoid of any other stimulus is perfect. But in the home, with its constant distractions of making the tea, checking your mobile and Grandma’s chuntering, and its impossible to see how the technology would elevate an episode of Hollyoaks to anything more than its current status as risible effluent. 3D evangelists state – somewhat obviously I fear – that “you really get an idea of the depth of a scene”. Now, when I watch something on TV that has a character in the foreground and someone else in the background, there are certain visual cues that hint at the depth. I don’t feel that my tiny mind is that overtaxed by thoughts of pizza, Beyonce and facebook statuses that I need to augment my own vision to know that Pointless Peasant A is behind Pleb B and not a dwarf growing out of their hips.
Perhaps the most overlooked obstacle to 3D Tv is that those behind the technology labour under the idea that the average person cares about quality. We don’t. We want convenience. When the CD appeared, it was heralded as the successor to cassette tapes because the sound was a much higher quality. It was, but the buying public really couldn’t care less – we bought it because it meant we could skip to the next track as soon as we were bored of the one we were listening to. This is borne out by the fact that we readily ditched our CDs for lower quality MP3s purely on the basis that we can fit our entire music collection onto a device the size of a matchbox. SACD? DVD Audio? They never had a chance. We still buy far more DVDs than Blu-Ray disks, because they are cheaper. Surround sound may be a more “immersive” experience, but when we simply can’t be bothered to sit in an optimum place on the sofa to hear it, even those that have it barely use it. Considering we are prone to tube rage when the TV doesn’t change channel the nanosecond we press a button on the remote, who really thinks for an instant we’re going to agree to having to wear a pair of magic glasses in our own home just to watch television?
Bringing the technology into the home poses more specific issues. The 3D illusion works in the cinema because the screens are designed to fill your field of vision – the illusion tends to come unstuck at the edges where optical tricker collides with a real-world background of wallpaper and plaster gnomes. Unless you are planning on owning the worlds largest TV (or even worse one of those technowanking individuals that yearns to own their own home cinema) you need to be prepared for underwhelmment on a biblical scale or sit with your knees touching the screen.
There are definite advantages for visualisation, such as architecture or design. In such scenarios there is no narrative, you are purely looking at a non-existent object in virtual space, so the more information that can be conveyed the better. But the argument that it will benefit sports is a tad loose. Where the ball is in a football game might be difficult to discern when its airborne, but it becomes pretty fucking obvious when it lands and someone else kicks it. Were it to become the de facto standard in sports pubs, walking into a Walkabout during the 5 Nations cup would be like stumbling into a Deirdre Barlow convention for alcoholic wife beaters. Most rugby enthusiasts I know can barely stand, they get that hammered when watching matches. Its a leap of blind hope that suggests they would be able to follow a game in 3D and scratch their bollocks without falling over.
One day it will happen, but my money would be on it happening when the effect is visible on a screen with no glasses required, and no dictates as to where you need to sit or stand to see it. Then you’ll be able to walk through a shopping centre and mahogany bottletanned human smiles will loom out of gargantuan video sales screens to terrorise you into buying whatever tat you need to make your life complete. And then we’ll probably be buying special glasses just to make them all go away. Either that or clawing our own eyes out.