Friday, March 12, 2010

a dimension too far?

So, it seems, someone has decided that this 3D technology for entertainment is here to stay. A good many people thought that the novelty factor would have worn off with the format seemingly being limited to lacklustre, average films like Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. A film that is by all accounts equally lacklustre and average, Avatar, has apparently changed this; people will go and see dazzling effects in this format in large numbers if you market it properly.

I can understand – without necessarily being interested – in the appeal of going to a cinema and seeing a film in 3D. your focus there, for the most part, would be on the screen anyway, and if this rejuvenated format makes it all the more interesting and entertaining, so be it. I am somewhat dubious, however, about this drive to have 3D television in the home.

Some would suggest that it’s the “next logical step”, just as TV was from cinema, and indeed before that cinema was from theatre. The difference here, though, is that the above “steps” didn’t do anything to dramatically changed how you watched something; 3D television certainly does.

If we focus on the “big thing” in 3D at the moment, Avatar, the alarm bells are ringing in the background. Apparently the release of this film in 3D is scheduled for November 2010. when this release is discussed, it’s rather quietly in the background that it’s mentioned that it will be on Blu-Ray disc, and that you will most likely need to buy a next generation Blu-Ray player and a new 3D capable LCD television to watch it.

As far as the first part of that equation goes, sort of OK really – I think we all understand that Blu-Ray will eventually replace the standard DVD format, but isn’t it a bit much to expect people to shell out for a “new generation player” so soon after the technology has really taken off? This is also true of LCD TVs – they are still in their infancy in terms of being bought, and they are not exactly cheap. Sony anticipates selling 2.5 million of them within the first year of them manufacturing them. That’s banking on a lot of people who have bought relatively new technology rushing off to by a quick next generation version of something, are they really certain people won’t decide to hold off for a couple of years just in case something else turns up?

If we assume that Sony know what they are doing (which is more of a stretch than you think, considering how they treat artists on their record label and tend not to release their products in an ideal, consumer friendly way), there is still the issue of the assumption that a large enough market are prepared to change the way they watch television. I refer, of course, to the small matter of one needing to wear special 3D glasses to watch 3D TV.

Acknowledging that 3D glasses have far advanced from the crappy cardboard efforts, there are still two major issues with using them in the home. The first would be how many pairs do you get? It’s all good and well that Sony will give you two pairs with each set bought, but that doesn’t help the more social types, does it? The extra sets are not cheap, and with some broadcasters planning to screen big events in 3D (Sky in the UK in particular), how many sets of these glasses are you going to need to buy for family and friends to all watch with you? or are you simply going to have friends and family that missed out on the glasses lottery watch something like the pic below?

The second issue is that a TV set at home is a different prospect from a massive cinema screen, beyond the obvious size issue. Few are the people who have a TV screen that stands alone against the wall – have a gander in your lounge and see how many peripheral vision things pop in there as you look at the TV. I am not an expert, but I would imagine that everything around the TV, in particular if you are not watching something in 3D with the curtains closed and lights off, is going to be rather distracting – including turning around to look at someone or something.

The only plus on these new style 3D glasses (or “Real D” as they seem keen to market them as) is that they consider us regular spectacle wearers and they do, in the majority of reviews, fit over normal glasses. whether they can be cleaned and maintained as easily as normal glasses is, however a bit unclear, if you will pardon the expression.

As the likes of Bill Gates established with computers and JVC established with home video, content is the most important thing. If there’s no product to play through any device it will fail, just ask (oddly enough) Sony about Betamax. To this end, the warning signs are quite dire Sir Ridley Scott is talking about his next project, Alien 5, in terms of it being 3D rather than the direction and content. In most interviews of late, he’s gotten all excited about making it in 3D and only briefly mentioned that they story – let alone screenplay – isn’t really finished as such. Oh dear.

Content will, despite any concerns I have listed, determine whether or not this 3D TV thing takes off. Compact Discs were seen as a novelty until Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms album, the first to truly adopt a perfect-for-the-80s, polished and all digital sound, became an essential purchase. DVD was also pretty much a novelty until The Matrix showed off what was possible with this new format. I have no doubt that Avatar, and indeed this new version of Alice In Wonderland, will be the driving forces in persuading people to invest in 3D television sets, but if quality content doesn’t become available in a substantial way (this is to say, quality films, shows and events that happen to be in a 3D format rather than having the “it’s not all that great, but look it’s in 3D!” factor), the novelty will wear thinner sooner than the producers of this technology may hope.

When a revival of 3D was mooted by the likes of George Lucas in the mid-2000s, the argument was that it would help to combat the pirate / bootleg market illegal copies of films, instead encouraging people to see the film legally (and in the case of 3D theatres rather expensively) instead. With box office revenue increasing year on year, even in 2010 with a dire range or releases, this argument doesn’t hold as much weight as they seem to think. Making 3D readily available at home – along with recordable Blu-Ray discs – means that if 3D television is a success, we can expect to hear rather wealthy studio executives and film directors complain once more that for all the billions they take each year, there’s still a few coins that film fans have which they do not own.

For the moment, I think I find myself glad not to be in the batch of people who rushed off to buy Plasma / LCD televisions and a Blu-Ray DVD player the moment they hit the market!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Post a Comment