Friday, January 9, 2009

3-D: The next big thing?

Sony is pushing 3-D as the next big thing, and let’s just assume for a moment that everyone is going to turn around and say that it actually works. I haven’t experienced this new evolution of 3-D entertainment myself, and no amount of screenshots or video can relay it, but that’s exactly what’s so interesting.

On the surface, 3-D technology seems to be aimed at the same sort of evolution between standard definition and high definition; your TV is just going to produce things that look more real. Yet I can’t help but feel like there is an event I’m missing. I think that’s why 3-D movies are selling so many tickets these days.

Going to the movies used to be an overwhelming experience. A few years ago, when I lived in Lafayette Indiana, I did some research on their defunct small town theater. This was a single screen theater that, like many of its brethren, died when big megaplexes came along. Some decades ago, the Lafayette theater was the first to bring moving picture to this small town. People lined up around the block, dressed in their finest Sunday clothes, to see Errol Flynn in Four’s a Crowd. I don’t think many people cared what the movie was about, it was cool enough that it was a movie.

Rosalind Russell, as a fast-thinking newspaper reporter, co-stars with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland in the romantic comedy Four's a Crowd (1938).

Seeing movies is completely common now, and I don’t expect that anything could possibly change that. What’s interesting here is the idea of flipping things around, and making a home entertainment experience one that “you have to see yourself.”

Another example: Years ago baseball started being broadcasted on TV, and this worried a lot of people; they expected ticket sales to drop down. The surprise was that ticket sales actually went up. Showing baseball on TV expanded the audience, sure, but people who could easily watch a game on TV were willing to pay a premium for the privilege to see a game first hand. The experience of sitting in a stadium became even more valuable. These days it’s a real task to get tickets to sporting events, especially my home-town favorites, the Cubs.

Right now, the only way to experience the new generation of 3-D entertainment is to hoof it to CES. I’m wondering what will happen when that experience comes to people’s living rooms. People love HD, but few will hoof it to my apartment just to see things in hi-res.

And what happens to those theaters, the ones who thought they finally had something people just couldn’t replicate at home? Are theaters going to have to push for bigger Imax screens and more 3-D until they just can’t afford to produce the spectacle, or is it enough that they get films six months before you can watch them at home?

Then again, perhaps we’ll see nothing but shrugged shoulders and disappointment in the 3-D revolution. Either way, I’m curious to see what happens.

1 comment:

Bryce said...

It's a cool concept, and people say the new iteration of 3D technology is really a big jump. However, I think they've got a couple of significant challenges before it becomes mainstream. First, they need consumers to upgrade TVs- only the highest end HDTVs of today will work with it. Second, the glasses factor- I don't know if they will ever be able to make 3D glasses "cool" to where. It seems like most people wouldn't want to sit around wearing magic glasses. I'm still holding out for the holodeck.