Friday, May 10, 2013

3-D’s Future - Dark or Bright?

This year I attended three conventions in Las Vegas - each one very different, yet connected, in a way, to the other two. They were the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) in April, and CinemaCon, also in April. Each of these events hosted a trade show to demo the latest and greatest  new products for their respective markets. For CES, that meant the show floor was full of new televisions, cameras, cell phones and other elctronic devices for the home. NAB was a showcase for professional audio, video, cameras and related gear. And CinemaCon highlighted the newest developments in movie theater technology and the major studio motion picture releases for 2013. Each show floor was full of 3-D products, from 3DTVs, to beamsplitter rigs, to projection polarizers, to ‘Smurfs 2’. And the buzz and hype at each conference, particularly about the future of 3-D, was just as the conventions themselves - very different, yet connected.

At CES, 3-D had become rather ubiquitous, as it is now a standard feature in most of the high-end flat screen TVs on the market. And with the electronics manufacturers pushing for everyone to replace their TVs every two years, they were no longer using last year’s 3-D as a major selling point, having moved on to next year’s Ultra High Resolution 4K TVs (LG was the exception, with polarized 3-D everywhere at their large exhibit). This led various news outlets and blogs to announce that “3-D is DEAD!”

Interestingly, the latest future-tech to be shown at NAB’s Technology Summit was laser projection, which allows 3-D to be projected at brightness levels rivalling 2-D (which should eliminate the “3-D is too dim” complaint). But the show floor at NAB had also seemingly moved on from prior years’ hype of  3-D. Stereoscopic camera rigs and equipment were still to be found all over the show floor, but the companies making pro gear were more interested in promoting  higher resolutions and higher frame-rates. While the press covering NAB was far less certain about 3-D’s demise, there was definitely a pensive mood among the attendees, and a cautious optimism among 3-D pros.

CinemaCon, however, was another story. Over and over, the studios gave presentations touting the box-office succes of their 3-D blockbusters, and celebrating their rosters of 3-D pictures in production. And on the show floor, 3-D was everywhere, from the chinese knock-offs of the RealD Z-screen system, to the designer ‘Iron Man III’ and ‘Despicable Me 2’ glasses, to the newly released RealD Ultimate White non-depolarizing screen material (bright, even image, with no hot-spot). Sam Raimi was there, accepting an award for the use of 3-D in ‘Oz’, Guillermo Del Toro was there, promoting his new 3-D feature ‘Pacific Rim’ (giant robots fighting giant monsters!), and each studio showed trailers and clips of new and exciting 3-D movies (I’m most excited now about ‘Gravity’ from director Alfonso Cuaron). And the motion picture exhibitors, from the small indie screens to the large theater chains, were solidly on the 3-D bandwagon, demanding more. And not a single mention of HFR or 4K. At CinemaCon, content was King, and 3-D was not only alive and well, but thriving!

And while we are on the topic of 3-D movies, during CinemaCon,  director Oliver Stone told a panel that the first movie to ever scare him was ‘House Of Wax’ in 3-D, back in 1953. And this September, we will all have an opportunity to see what that experience was like when Jeff Joseph returns to the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood to present the ‘World 3-D Film Expo III’. Ten days of classic 3-D movies, most presented in dual-strip 35mm! Tickets and passes are available now, and as someone who was fortunate enough to have attended 3-D Expos I and II, I can tell you that you don’t want to miss this!