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Posted on July 28th, 2010 by David Bayon

Why we can’t ditch 3D glasses just yet

This is the first in a series of blogs based on a seminar given at the BBC by Buzz Hays, chief instructor for the Sony 3D Technology Center in Culver City, California. The series starts with an answer to the most common complaint about 3D.

Buzz Hays

The question always comes up and rarely gets answered properly, so to hear such a measured dismantling of glasses-less 3D was illuminating. But then, Buzz Hays has been pioneering and improving the art of creating 3D for five years, so when he says we’ll be sticking with the glasses for a while yet, you tend to listen.

The main reason 3D glasses will be around for the foreseeable future is that autostereoscopic displays – those which work without the need for glasses – face problems that simply can’t be surmounted with current technology. I’ll let Buzz explain.

“The big issue is with the resolution of the source material itself. In order for it to be an image that even approximates something like high-def we have to be at least four times the resolution we have right now. So it’s impractical at this point.”

He’s talking about the way current 3D works, in that the left and right eyes’ images both need to be projected and polarised in opposite directions to be combined in your brain – so the picture you see in the cinema is half the resolution it could be. Taking away the glasses means that effect just gets worse. Buzz continues:

“Most of the [autostereoscopic] systems out there require – instead of just the left and right eye view – multiple views, odd numbers such as nine or 13 or, in some cases I’ve seen, up to 27 views. Firstly, somebody has to create all the views, but secondly, if you take a high-def image and you divide the width of the screen by nine then you’ve already cut your resolution by nine, so the image is roughly a tenth of the original resolution.”

“That’s tiny. That’s like a QuickTime movie you’d put in an email. Most self-respecting film makers won’t let their work be so degraded.”

Of course, as Buzz pointed out at the start of his presentation, at CES 2009 the pronouncements were that 3D TV would hit homes within three to five years, yet they’re already beginning to appear within a single year. The pace of progress just can’t be predicted, so who knows when we’ll be able to ditch the specs? “Eventually we’ll get there,” he assured us, “but the glasses really shouldn’t be an impediment.”

I agree with him on that one: if you’re stubborn enough to avoid 3D because the glasses make you look silly, or because you think it’s an effort you shouldn’t have to endure, you’re missing out on what can be a tremendous experience. Kids see the glasses as part of the experience, part of the fun; is it really so hard to buy into that?

“Grown-ups seem to have a problem with the glasses thing,” said Buzz. “When people are adamant, ‘I’d never watch a movie wearing glasses,’ I’m always like [points to his own glasses] ‘Why not? I do it all the time.’”

If that kind of argument doesn’t sway you, sitting in a 3D film without glasses just might. “With most of the early autostereoscopic displays, you can’t move your head. It’s perfect for a date movie, right? Imagine it: you sit here, she sits here, now neither of you move for two hours!”

Sounds almost as romantic as a back-row fumble with the glasses on…

Read more:
Why bad 3D, not 3D glasses, is what gives you a headache.
From the Pole to Pandora: the shaky progress of modern 3D.
Why 3D and modern filmmaking techniques don’t mix.
3D TV: in the home, on a budget and… on the news?

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28 Responses to “ Why we can’t ditch 3D glasses just yet ”

  1. Lomskij Says:
    July 28th, 2010 at 11:43 am

    “so the picture you see in the cinema is half the resolution it could be”

    I though that most cinemas in UK use “RealD 3D” technology, where projector alternately projects right-eye frames and left-eye frames?

  2. David Bayon Says:
    July 28th, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Good point. RealD does alternate the images, and most cinemas use that. Buzz was referring to Sony’s newer RealD XLS technology which can superimpose both images at once using the same projector – so a 4K projector uses two 2K images.

    I’ve updated the sentence to be a bit clearer.

  3. David Wright Says:
    July 28th, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    The glasses are uncomfortable and I can’t wear them for the duration of a full film – when I saw Alice in Wonderland, I missed about a third of the film, because I had to remove the glasses, because they were giving me a headache and not wearing them was even worse, so I spent a lot of time with my eyes closed… And the 3D effects were pretty non-existent anyway, I think, from the footage I saw, about 2 scenes actually appeared to be in 3D or even need 3D effects.

    It isn’t an experience I am in a hurry to replicate. I’ll be sticking to 2D screenings from now on.

    When the 3D experience can produce something that is worth watching and doesn’t cause headaches, I’ll give it a try, but the current technology is a non-starter, for me.

    I don’t think having to wear 2 pairs of glasses made the experience any easier.

    3D is certainly something I won’t be running out to buy for the home, any time soon.

  4. Mr John Coller Says:
    July 28th, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    I would like a 3d polarisation option on prescription glasses. Wearing two sets of glasses doesn’t always work. Making normal glasses work in 3d films would solve the problem for the majority of adults who wear glasses any way.

  5. Lomskij Says:
    July 28th, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Apparently polarised contact lenses already exist, not very popular though.

  6. ian Says:
    July 28th, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    3D simply isn’t viable for anyone who is short-sighted.

    And whilst contacts are great, they’re far more expensive and most aren’t usable for more than 12 hours per day – so prescription glasses are an essential.

    Which is the problem for 3DTV with glasses – I’ve tried balancing one pair in front of another and it’s simply not possible without one falling off, or significantly reducing the visable area that’s covered by both pairs (as one is further from the other).

    @John Coller – Prescription sunglasses are expensive enough – I get the feeling presctition 3D glasses will be “price on request”… and considering that prescriptions change over the standard 2 year eye-test period, they can’t be considered a long-term investment.

    Whilst I appreciate the problems with the current tech, as 15-30% of people are short-sighted, I simply can’t see 3DTV taking off until glasses become irrelevant.

  7. Mike Baldwin Says:
    July 29th, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Why no one has ever considered making clip ons for people who have glasses is beyound me.A choice of 3d Glasses or 3d clip ons when you enter the cinema would be a great idea.Anyway i am waiting for Start Trek type holodecks.Probably only a few years away at the current pace of technology.

  8. Mike Baldwin Says:
    July 29th, 2010 at 9:14 am

    soory typing seems to be a bit offffff topay :-)

  9. Stephen Says:
    July 29th, 2010 at 10:04 am

    3D TV in the home is dead. This of course won’t stop people marketing and selling devices as they have mortgages etc to pay.
    The number of people that want to pay the necessary money to equip themselves with 3D glasses and then have a living room where they can sit the whole family at the right distance and angle are way too few.
    Having watched Avatar and sports in 3D it really added very little, especially sports.
    3D if it survives at all will live on in video games. Here it makes some sense.

  10. bulshit Says:
    July 29th, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Another bullshit, pointless, useless “technology” for a society bereft of any creative spiritual core or the ability to discern for themselves. It’s designed and manufactured by a greedy and ruthless corporation only too eager to fill the hole where the soul used to be with materialistic sh!t and most of you morons are queuing up to buy it.

  11. bull Says:
    July 29th, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    And, i suppose the only reason for this apologist piece of “journalistic” press release rewriting is to ensure there’s a steady supply of vaios to review. Everyone knows 3D in it’s current form is utterly redundant before it’s even got off the mark. Rewrite the press release when tv’s are genuinely 3D.

  12. Stephen Says:
    July 29th, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Re “bull” And I get accused of being cynical. Another point that this article is stating to bother me about is why has the BBC sent staff to California to learn how to film things in 3D. Not aware of BBC’s plans to thrust EastEnders on us in 3D. I would not suspect the BBC of going off on a nice little jolly to California….
    Actually re-reading it maybe they brought the guy over here. Either way seems like a less than vital use of money.

  13. David Bayon Says:
    July 29th, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    @Stephen: To clarify, it was merely hosted in a studio at BBC TV Centre. The full course – in which around 250 British TV and filmmakers are being taught in just two weeks – is entirely a Sony venture. I have no idea if any BBC staff attended. We journalists got a cut-down crash course.

    I understand 3D is a personal taste – some people don’t like it and that’s fine. The Sony guys were refreshingly honest about the fact not many professionals out there actually know what they’re doing with 3D – hence this course, which they’ve already run for six weeks in the US. They’re still learning as fast as they can, and they’re passing it on, so hopefully the 3D we see will get better and better.

    As for the bizarre pair of comments above Stephen’s, the “press release” you refer to is 142 minutes of recorded audio and eight pages of handwritten notes. I confess I did use some of it for this article. :)

  14. bulshit Says:
    July 30th, 2010 at 7:43 am

    Whose audio and whose handwritten notes, I jest, but if Sony are putting on a marketing course for two weeks you can understand anyone’s cynicism. I don’t think it is personal taste, I think people are too stupid to discern and to scared to say no, if something is pushed hard enough in the media and advertised to saturation people will buy whether the product is good or not. Someone needs to stand up and say 3D is currently rubbish, it’s an interim “solution” at best. What happened to balanced journalism? Where’s the other side of the coin? This is a blatant piece of marketing.

  15. David Bayon Says:
    July 30th, 2010 at 9:21 am

    It’s not a marketing course. No one taking the actual course is going away and writing about it – they’re filmmakers, they don’t care about marketing 3D, they just want to learn how to make it.
    The only part of it that’s marketing is allowing a small group of journalists in for a couple of hours to see what the course is trying to do. As you’ll see from the rest of the blogs over the next few weeks, it wasn’t an afternoon of Sony-loving spin – Buzz was as critical of a lot of the 3D we’ve seen as you are.

  16. Robert Sitton Says:
    July 31st, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    I believe all 3D devices and displays are disappointing. Nothing on the market gives you a compelling 3D experience. Every device is a hack that is missing a vital component — in my opinion.

    In today’s 3D technology there are too many restrictions, the colors are awful, the range is limited, and sometimes the test patterns give more compelling 3D because your eyes have crossed.

    If we wish to create a “holodeck” experience, it will require revolutionary techniques as most technology today is a dead-end in one or more ways.

  17. Jason Wilson Says:
    August 2nd, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    The 3D was cool at first but the push is over blown. I find the glasses to be uncomfortable and the effect to be average for movies other than cartoons… I have no interest in this for the home.

  18. David Bandel Says:
    August 2nd, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Sure sucks for people like me who have amblyopia and can’t view 3d films properly. (we still see the 3d effect (not sure how that’s possible really but somehow i do) but 3d motion is blurry)

    I’m praying this stupid technology doesn’t take off.

    The day I can’t view a film because it was only released in 3d.. is the day I call up a lawyer and initiate a class action.

  19. Larry Says:
    August 2nd, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    The bad news is, 3D is still just a gimmick.

  20. nobody Says:
    August 2nd, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Avatar on IMAX 3D was eyesex, regardless of how dead anyone claims 3d to be. Wasn’t a great movie otherwise, but that wasn’t 3D’s fault, it was Cameron’s fault.

  21. J.A. Says:
    August 2nd, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    I use prescription glasses, I’m not looking forward to having to sets of glasses on my nose and trying to make that work throughout the whole movie, or having to wear contacts to go to the cinema.

    Considering all my friends who saw 3D movies so far reacted with “mehh”… I’ll pass it for now.

  22. nobody Says:
    August 2nd, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    i wear prescription glasses, and had no problems wearing the 3d glasses over them. i’m sure i would have if i had been active, but i was sitting in a seat watching a movie

  23. Will Says:
    August 2nd, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    In its current form, I don’t see 3D catching on in the home. Not only do additional glasses cost over $100, they aren’t compatible with 3D TV’s from other manufacturers. I could see myself owning a couple of pairs for me and missus, but I’m not going to spend $1000+ for my 10 buddies just so we can watch the superbowl in 3D. The 3D experience can be hit or miss too [in its current form], the computer-generated movies look great, and Avatar was amazing, but Alice in Wonderland was just 2D live action mixed with 3D graphics. I thought that the 3D effects for Clash Of The Titans actually made the experience worse. It will definitely be interesting to see where the medium goes though.

  24. Chuck Says:
    August 2nd, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    I love 3D. The people complaining seem to be made up of people who have never gone to a 3D movie, got a headache due to the MOVIE not the glasses but blame the glasses, or that they already wear glasses and don’t like wearing two sets. I don’t wear glasses and when I try, for reading purposes, I always am hurrying to get them off. I don’t have that problem in the movie theater. The glasses are fine and don’t distract from the movie, at least for me. Nobody is making anyone buy a home 3D setup. So you end up buying a TV that supports 3D. You don’t have to buy the glasses. I like the option and find having more options, even bad ones, is better than having someone decide for me. Also, go demo a 3D TV at Sears or Best Buy, you will be amazed.

  25. Ryan Says:
    August 3rd, 2010 at 12:30 am

    What a lot of people don’t realise is that S3D surfaced in the 50’s. It then experienced a resurge 30 years later in the 80’s, and now 30 years later still, it has come back…for a while. The ONLY reason for studios to push S3D in cinemas is to force all of the cinemas to purchase new digital projection systems. Digital projection systems eliminate the need of a film print, which can cost up to $2000 each. Multiply that with a 4000 screen opening, and you can see that film prints are a large cost that the studios would like to get rid of.

    Once the majority of the cinemas have gone digital, S3D will die down again. Of course the makers of such technology are blaming the film makers, they have product to sell!

    Oh, and I hate wearing glasses on top of my glasses, it’s extremely uncomfortable, not to mention that fact that S3D glasses makes everything a few stops darker.

    I hear out there people comparing the use of colour and sound in movies to the use of S3D, but what those people fail to realise is that sound and colour were passive upgrades. The audience didn’t have to do anything to experience it. S3D is an active upgrade, as in you must actively change the way you view it (put on glasses), or you can’t experience it.

    S3D is just a gimmick used to drive the consumer machine. BTW, I work in the CG industry on stereo conversions.

  26. rndtc Says:
    August 3rd, 2010 at 5:18 am

    3D is the future of screen based entertainment, as it has been for the last 100+ years; ever seen stereo view cards/stereopticon.
    My point is that current 3D tech is old-school, even if the implementation has changed, it’s the exact same principle.

    Glasses or not, there are two BIG aspects of 3D viewing tech that need to be improved(before it becomes ubiquitous):
    1. Viewer(position) dependent perspective. i.e. move your head and the perspective changes; you can see around things.

    2. Dynamic focus. i.e. My eyes can focus on something in the background or foreground.

    The fixed focus of current tech spoils the effect and the lack of viewer dependent perspective throws immersion out the window, and the alternate image flickering is distracting to say the least.

    Find a solution to these two(three) problems and you’ve cracked a 100+ year old issue on 3D market penetration, and you’ll get me on-board the 3D bandwagon, till then it’s just that old gimmick, again.

    And if Buzz reads this; Good luck solving the big issues, and if you require further insight…

  27. Gabuzo Says:
    August 3rd, 2010 at 9:39 am

    I don’t agree with the glasses not being an issue. For the moviegoers, probably but for the theater owner that’s a real pain to have to collect back the specs at the end of the show and provide an “emergency service” at the beginning to switch the defective glasses. Now let’s imagine 3D at home and you’ll see that glasses will be a real pain. First of all, casual TV watching while cooking, knitting or facebooking will be out as you probably don’t want to wear your glasses all the time. Next, think of children + candy + glasses. That’s probably equals to broker glasses, run for a replacement pair and lose 100€.

  28. Welshman Says:
    August 6th, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    I have watched a couple of 3D films at the IMAX and I find two things annoying. First is the frame rate with fast lateral movements which creates a very blurry effect when panning across. This can be fixed by doubling the frame rate to 48 frames per second but this doubles the size of the digital data for that film. The second thing is the layered cardboard cut-out effect which can be seen more often than not. This is where things look ‘flat’ but can be seen sitting ‘behind’ or in ‘front’ of other ‘flat’ things.

    Saying that I have enjoyed the 3D films even though I wear glasses anyway. I think 3D on TV is a complete waste of time and is only here to serve up as the next big thing (gimmick) to sell more TVs!


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