3D Projector Technology : The Good. The Less Good. The Backstory.

House of Wax trailer image

The good people at Projector Central have recently posted a highly informative article on 3D projectors and we wanted to share it with you ASAP. They beat us to the punch, and have provided an in depth look at 3D projector technologies, and for that, we thank them. Here is the full article on “The Renaissance of 3D“. Below are some excerpts from their contribution and some additional thought-shares.

From Projector Central:

3D projection has been available in various forms for a very long time. The first mainstream 3D films made their debut during the 1950s. People at the time were convinced that 3D was the Future of Cinema. Films like Bwana Devil, Man in the Dark, House of Wax, and It Came from Outer Space thrilled audiences with this new technology. Despite a strong push, 3D didn’t stick. The few 3D theaters that existed had a hard time with the expensive, complex equipment. Small mistakes could send the two-projector system out of synchronization and destroy the effect. Audiences were dissatisfied with the lackluster image quality and poor viewing conditions. For a number of years, 3D lay dormant…

[ Note: I added links to the trailers, you are very welcome! ]

With all the classic camp films mentioned above, and really since the re-mergence of 3D into our projector world, I keep having flashbacks to the 90’s movie Matinee. The movie celebrates all the great theater gimmicks from yesteryear; seat buzzers, explode-o-vision, smell-o-rama, and even 3D. The movie is only partially about the movie business, it’s also a coming of age story that takes place during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it’s the look into the creative brain of a slightly sleazy theater manager (Lawrence Woolsey played by John Goodman) in the 60’s that sticks with you. In a world where television is becoming a household item, theaters have to compete for business and Woolsey is not above any crowd-pleasing idea that will keep kids in the seats. No, this isn’t a review of the movie. But I’d give it 3 1/2 out of 5 stars for fun. Roger Ebert agrees.

Anyway, as they mention over at ProjectorCentral.com, the concept of 3D has been around for as long as the majority of our demographic can remember. But till now, it’s always been considered a bit gimmicky. So why is it having a ‘renaissance’ now? And is it for real this time? Read on.

…Now, 3D has made yet another comeback with films such as The Polar Express, Coraline, Monsters vs. Aliens, and (of course) Avatar. This time around, there are several key differences which indicate that 3D might be here for good. With the advent of digital cinema, synchronization and timing issues have been eliminated. Decreases in the cost and complexity of cinema projection equipment have made it possible for 3D systems to be installed in many more theaters. And filmmakers are learning how to work with 3D, leaving behind the gimmicky effects of the previous generations in favor of more immersive, integral applications of depth.

So, better content, a more immersive experience, and a lower cost to produce and project have suddenly (after 50 years) made 3D a viable technology. The challenge for manufacturers now will be to convince buyers like you that it is time to make an investment in 3D. This will be much easier if the cost of upgrading hardware is minimal. And, it will also help if there is a solution that does not require $100-$200 glasses for each viewer. Many buyers (like those who already wear glasses) would probably prefer no glasses at all, though they do seem to be a part of the fun. Also, as with any new technology, standardization will be necessary to convince weary buyers to upgrade any time soon. So, where are manufacturers with standardization? What are the old technologies we have seen before? What is the new technology and why is it better?

In the article, Projector Central explains all the primary varieties of 3D creation today; Anaglyph Method, Polarizer Method, Interference Filter 3D, and the LCD Shutter Glasses Method. These represent the old red/blue glasses variation (Anaglyph), as well as what we have previously referred to as “active glasses” method that has been adopted by many projector manufacturers (like the Optoma HD66 home projector, Mitsubishi XD600U for business, among several other new models). Here’s a bit about the new active glasses method:

LCD shutter glasses are the first high-quality 3D implementation suitable for home use. In systems that use these glasses, the video display shows alternating left-right images very rapidly–up to 120 frames per second. The viewer wears a pair of active LCD shutter glasses which alternately block the left or right eye. Much like the effect of a DLP color wheel, this happens so quickly that your brain melds the two images together and creates the impression of a single image with 3D depth.

{ Advantages of Shutter Glasses }

They offer a great review of the pros and cons of each method, and knowing all this is great way to impress your friends when they first get wind of the third-dimension’s return. It’s a highly recommended read if you like to know.

In a previous blog post we talked about the HDMI 1.4 standard and HDMI, and explored some of what will be required for an upgrade on the cable side (hopefully nothing). There is still more information to come about 3D compatibility with current projectors, and what kind of upgrade potential is possible. We will keep you informed as we learn more details on the product level.

As you may have been able to tell, this blogger is a little concerned about the staying power of 3D. I’d hate to encourage people to make upgrades if 3D is going to fade away into the abyss for another 30years. And I’d hate to recommended it if rolling your eyes for two hours gives you a headache. But there is a good deal of promise for 3D in the near future. For the moment, it’s still in the land of the early adopter. But, with all the potential fun of 3D back in theaters, wouldn’t it be fun to bring back more of that old cinema feel back in the day?

Now is the time for inventors to consider some new fun cinema technologies. And what if they brought back the ‘news reels’ before each show? Imagine the headlines to the pre-show reel for Avatar “150,000 acres of rain forests destroyed in the last 24-hours.” That’d be a crowd pleaser! On second thought, 3D sounds like more fun. And this time, we hope they’ll make it truly immersive, and not just another gimmick.

[ Read complete story at ProjectorCentral.com ]