The Big Question: Are we heading towards a 3D screen future?

Why are we asking this now?

The technology is suddenly everywhere – heralded as the future of television and transforming cinema-goers' experience. This week rugby sponsors O2 announced that England's upcoming Six Nations matches with Wales and Ireland would be beamed live in 3D to 40 Odeon and Cineworld cinemas nationwide next month. Meanwhile James Cameron's Avatar is proving the most successful 3D movie ever made, with takings that have topped over $1bn, and Pixar's Up took $680m globally. In 2010 around 20 out of 170 movies will be made in 3D, double the number from last year. A 3D animated remake of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, directed by Robert Zemeckis, is also in the pipeline. At last week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas all the major TV manufacturers unveiled 3D sets. BSkyB plans to launch a 3D channel later this year.

Haven't we seen all this before?

3D technology has been around for almost as long as cinema. In 1922, The Power of Love was the first feature film to be screened in 3D at the Ambassador Hotel Theatre in Los Angeles. The effect was achieved by projecting two films strips – one using reds, one using greens – on top of one another. Viewers watched the film using glasses with different-coloured filters in their lenses. The golden age of 3D was in the early 1950s, and began with 1951's Bwana Devil, an action-thriller set in Africa. Two prints were projected through polarising filters at the cinema screen, before being separated by glasses with differently-polarised lenses. The trend declined due to its expense. As well as duplicate prints, it required two projectionists

It was only a matter of time before the technology reached TV. In 2008 Samsung launched a £700 3D TV which requires glasses; specialist TV manufacturers like Alioscopy and Magnetic also already make glasses-free 3D screens.

So what's different now?

Digital technology. Instead of using film, digital cinemas project images from a computer's hard drive. Although 3D technology uses the same principles of polarising light used back in the 1950s, photography and distribution costs are much lower, meaning 3D is a much more worthwhile investment for Hollywood studios. Special adapters are fitted to conventional digital projectors that rotate the light several times per second, mimicking the effect of two projectors.

There are around 300 cinemas in the UK that can show 3D films. Traditionally, shooting in 3D required two cameras; now, especially in situations with limited post-production such as television sports events, "stereoscopic" cameras with two lenses are employed. A spate of films have ridden the 3D wave over the last year – among them Ice Age 3D and Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D – re-igniting interest in cinema during a difficult economic climate. At CES, Panasonic unveiled a 152-inch plasma screen that produced a better image than many cinemas.

Isn't watching 3D going to cost us more money?

In the short term, yes. In 2008, the average UK ticket price was £5.18, but with their premium mark up, 3D films are generally up at around the £7 mark, even higher in West End cinemas, which can be as much as £14. Around 30p per ticket goes to RealD, who make the clip-on gadget that converts conventional digital projections to 3D.

With regard to televisions, US research firm Gartner says it only costs 15 per cent more to make a 3D TV than a regular flat screen. "At the moment 3D TVs are the same price as High Definition [HD] TVs were when they were first launched," says Stuart Cupit, a director at 3D production specialists Inition. "But when people start to buy them in large numbers the prices will come down. At the moment they are premium products."

So just how successful is 3D?

In the first weekend of January, Avatar took £4.9m from the UK cinemas with 3D screens, £713,000 from 418 D cinemas, and £282,000 from nine Imax sites. Individual cinema averages were as follows: £31,353 in Imax 3D; £16,340 in regular 3D; and £1,705 in D. That tells its own story, and the film helped UK box offices amass record gross takings of £1bn in 2009.

While all the broadcasters have been watching such trends closely, BSkyB is the only one to publicly commit to a channel launch. It is currently amassing enough 3D raw material to broadcast. The BBC says it is "exploring the possibilities in terms of multi-view capture and stereoscopic imaging" but says it is too early to say how popular 3D will be with audiences. The cinema and TV craze must be something of a surprise to computer games fans, who have been buying 3D games for years.

What's the verdict in the film and TV industry?

DreamWorks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg has described 3D as "the greatest innovation in film since colour" while Intel CEO Paul Otellini told crowds at CES that, "I think that 3D... is the next thing that's poised to explode in the home." Cupit, who is helping to develop the technology to be used to broadcast the Six Nations, says: "3D creates a richer, more engaging experience than a D flat image. I think it will become the new standard. As the technology sorts itself out it will become more prevalent."

Ironically Cameron, who has necessarily been one of 3D's most ardent standard bearers, recently merely issued a guarded approval of 3D TV technology. "As 3D starts to come into the living room, and come in at higher frame rates, then we're gonna have to up our game again. 'Cause movies can't look worse than what you're getting at home," he told Variety magazine.

Does 3D annoy the cinema purists?

According to the US film critic Roger Ebert, "Every single frame of a 3D movie gives us something to look at that is not necessary." His main argument is that the more unbelievable shots of debris flying from the screen in 3D destroy the illusion that the viewer is a part of the action.

The British film critic Mark Kermode is also outspoken in disliking 3D, saying that "all the things that were impressive about Avatar had nothing to do with 3D...unless you're making a movie about sky-diving spear-chuckers there's a limited use of 3D." Kermode says that the 30 per cent colour loss involved with wearing 3D glasses during the film was not worth the 3D effect. "Avatar shows us exactly what stereoscopic cinema is capable of. And the answer is nothing."

So where does 3D technology go from here?

BSkyB has not confirmed an exact launch date for its 3D channel but says it plans to first launch its 3D service in pubs before marketing it to domestic users. Long-term developments are less clear. "It will probably be the technology that doesn't require glasses coming through," concludes Cupit. "It's the latest in a long line of incremental steps. First it was black and white, then colour, then HD. Eventually we'll have holographic images bursting out of your TV. But not so radical that you think it's science fiction."

Is 3D here to stay?

Yes...

* 3D has succeeded in buoying British cinema audiences in a challenging economic climate

* Most major broadcasters and TV manufacturers are investing in 3D technology

* The number of films being made in 3D has doubled over the last year, and the trend is set to continue

No...

* Prices of 3D TVs and cinema tickets continue to be more expensive

* While it might become the standard in cinemas and TVs, current stereoscopic technologies may soon become obsolete

* Historically, acceptance of 3D technology has risen and fallen; the latest phase may be yet another fad

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on