Alice, revolution or fad?

The guys that do the marketing for the big Hollywood studios know what they are doing, the games industry is in the dark ages by comparison. And movies have suddenly found a great strategic advantage over other entertainment media. One that is more than working. It is packing them in.

Stereoscopic 3D using polarising glasses is the hottest thing since the talkies. Avatar, which I have already written about, is the biggest grossing film in history. Yet now Alice in Wonderland out grossed Avatar in its first UK weekend. Cleverly Alice leverages the Johnny Depp brand to appeal to a different demographic to Avatar, so my wife liked it.

Obviously part of 3D is hype, marketing and the usual human/lemming behaviour. But part of it is also a step change in the immersive experience. The ability to suspend disbelief yet further.

Before Alice screened they showed a whole pile of trailers. All for blockbuster films and all 3D. How to Train your Dragon, Shrek Forever After and Toy Story 3 are destined to be surefire hits. It is a new golden age for the movie industry. The only caveat is that these are all Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) films. It will be impressive when Hollywood delivers a non CGI 3D blockbuster.

Whilst the movie industry has a lead in this jump to 3D it will not be for long, TV manufacturing and broadcasting are both heavily committed to it. Televisions are a commodity product, a rectangle of moving image. In recent times manufacturers have tried to use size as a differentiator. But you can only go so far. So currently in the market they are using thinness, which is not the sexiest of USPs. This makes 3D a very tempting technology to help maintain manufacturing margins. So the manufacturers are jumping in with both feet. Soon the market will be flooded with 3D sets and all those big flat screens sold over the last few years will be obsolete.

Time now for a brief technical interlude. Stereoscopic 3D works by fooling the brain. To do this it feeds a different image to the left eye and to the right eye. This is why you need to wear polarised glasses in the cinema, each lens is polarised in a different direction to only let through the right imagery for its eye. So the cinema needs to project twice as much onto the screen to maintain the same quality as 2D films. This is why the whole industry has invested a fortune in re-equipping.

Which brings us to video games. I reported on 3D gaming last year and again earlier this year. It definitely provides a compelling experience. But it requires us to put twice as much information on the screen if everything else about the game remains the same. But our current generation of consoles just don’t have the spare capacity, they are already working at full stretch to deliver the current crop of 2D games. Moving to HD was a big jump for the gaming industry and 3D is yet another big jump without much of a breathing space in between.

So every PS3 and 360 game developer now has a choice. Either create spectacular 2D graphics or go 3D with a lesser graphics quality. There is only so much processing power available and they have to decide what to use it on. This puts us a long way behind the movie industry who have already re-equipped to deliver the highest quality images and 3D at the same time. We are going to have to wait for PS4 and Xbox 720 to really do 3D properly.

Sony and Microsoft have different attitudes to 3D. It looks like Sony are betting the company on 3D. Every division and every product that can embrace it is doing so, big style. Televisions, movies, camcorders and of course, video games. This summer Sony are releasing a systems update for the PS3 to optimise it for 3D games. This can’t add in the power necessary to do the job properly, but it is a viable stopgap. If 3D continues to take off in the public perceptions this could give Sony a big strategic advantage.

Microsoft’s attitude is far more wait and see. They obviously feel either that 3D is a fad or that current technology isn’t up to the job of doing it justice. Or maybe even they are so tied up with Natal that they simply don’t have the resources necessary to do 3D. It is a big nuisance that two paradigm shifters like 3D and gesture interfaces should come along at the same time.

So let’s look at what this all means. If 3D really is our future then it is advantage Sony, in a big way. 3D is embedded throughout the corporation. If 3D is a fad then it is advantage Microsoft, they won’t have wasted resources chasing a rainbow. What is absolutely for sure is that it has accelerated the release of the next generation of platforms. We suddenly need the extra horsepower that Moore’s law always delivers for us in new machines.


  1. I’m not discounting the appeal of 3D. A few years ago I was privileged enough to get to see ‘Ghosts of the Abyss’ (a James Cameron documentary on the actual Titan wreckage) in IMAX-3D and it was incredible, and would be more than happy to pay the money to go and see more movies in this format.

    However, 3D will remain something that is experienced at the cinema, or other “going out” type environment (such as sports shown on a big screen in a pub), until someone comes up with affordable technology that allows a high-quality, convincing 3D image to be produced and viewed without the need for special glasses.

    People simply don’t want to sit at home wearing glasses to watch TV, or play games. What happens if you go round to your mate’s house and he’s there watching something in 3D but you forgot to take your special glasses round? Or is it his responsibility to buy extra pairs for guests, like having enough mugs in the house that you can make people a drink if they come round?

  2. I agree with Sean, it’s annoying being forced to wear special glasses to see movies or whatever.

    And if I’m myopic?

    My bet is on Microsoft and Natal.

  3. Sony: ‘A Lot’ Of SCE Studios Working On Stereoscopic PS3 Games

    ……………PS3 games that Sony has shown running in 3D now include MLB 10: The Show, Super Stardust HD, Gran Turismo 5: Prologue, Wipeout HD and MotorStorm: Pacific Rift. With impending 3D support on PS3, there will be more, thanks to developers who are excited about the prospect of 3D gaming, Bickerstaff said.

    Asked how many SCE studios are working on 3D PS3 games, Bickerstaff said, “It’s all a bit confidential, but a lot, let’s put it that way. We’ve been amazed by the enthusiasm from the developers.”……………

  4. Was privileged enough to get a sneak-peak at some of the Home TV develoments in 3D and in around 3-4 years there will be very affordable TV sets that will show good Quality 3D without the need for glasses.

    Ignore the stuff that is coming out in the next 1-2 years. It is just time fillers till the real technology is released.

    3D PC monitors that won’t need glasses will be very wide-spread within the next 3 years easily.
    Combine that with the obscene volume of games beign made in 3D right now and I think it is safe to say that 3D is here to stay.

    the only problem is that I have a feeling that most of the games will be, as usual, crap. But ah well, such has been the way for far too long. lol.

  5. Sounds cool. I like 3D movies, and was somewhat sad when I didn’t get the chance to see Avatar in 3D. It would definitely change the way we look at film entertainment, and I can see the biggest impact on Horror movies. Can you imagine any of the Saw movies in that fashion?

    Although, I do wonder about the games. What about the good games we have now? or of the last couple decades? Would they then be unplayable on these 3D screens? Will any of them possible be updated and re-released? Games like Klingon Academy would be good in a 3D environment I think. I’d certainly buy it.

    This certainly brings up questions, but I think I’ve rambled enough. Have a wonderful day Bruce, and everyone else as well.

  6. and after 3d comes virtiul reality. its been a long time coming but i feel in the next 10 years we gona get our headsets we were pormised in the 70’s.

  7. Hey Jared, for the last few years I have been taking it on the chin for mentioning Virtual reality without glasses, and 400mbs internet access over the power lines. Well man they are both already developed, and one of them (internet) has had thousands of test subjects for the last few years. We are actually there, just need the cost to finish going down for the 3d one, and the Government to implement green energy to get the deployment of the internet one going because the companies are waiting on that to change their infrastructure.

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