And 3-D content can vary drastically in appearance. “Avatar”, a science-fiction film that has scooped up $2.7 billion in box-office sales, uses the additional depth provided by the third dimension in a refined, subtle way. Not so “My Bloody Valentine 3D”, which ramps it up for shock value. Televised sport, with its abrupt cuts from wide to tight shots, is a different visual experience again. Ad breaks may prove even more disorienting as they switch between two and three dimensions.
Pass the shades
The biggest question-mark is over whether consumers will want to don what looks like a pair of lightly tinted sunglasses before flopping down in front of the TV set. Those glasses may enhance the viewing experience, but they would not help with checking e-mails, flicking through magazines and all the other things that people like to do while watching television.
Moreover, the shutter glasses that come with active 3-D TVs are expensive. They will sell for up to $150 a pair at first, although the price should fall over time. Television manufacturers expect to provide a couple of free pairs with each set, but this is not much good for the family that wants to sit and watch “Up” together.
One cable executive has compared three-dimensional television to a chocolate sundae—not something you want every day. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the head of DreamWorks Animation, reckons that although 3-D pictures will eventually become ubiquitous in cinemas they will remain an occasional treat in the home. “You’re not going to sit down and watch the BBC world news in 3-D,” he explains.
So what warrants the third dimension? The obvious answer is films. For many, an evening spent at home watching a film is already a special experience with its own rituals. People pour themselves a glass of wine, draw the curtains and settle down on the sofa. They can surely put on a pair of glasses to make it even more special. 3-D computer games should appeal, too. Video games are already absorbing; the technology makes them more so. Lucky Sony, which makes not only films and 3-D camera systems but also games consoles.
But the thing that will really drive people to buy 3-D sets, Mr Katzenberg and others agree, is sport. If the measure of a new visual technology is not that it looks cool but that it allows viewers to see things they have never seen before, sport is the clear winner. Watching football in three dimensions is a revelation. A crush of players jostling for position as a ball sails through the air suddenly becomes intelligible. Viewers at home are able to see for the first time where the ball will come down and which player is in the best position to tackle it. Those who have experimented with filming sport in three dimensions say the effect is so compelling that they need fewer cameras (which are placed lower down, near the touchline) and many fewer cuts. Once again, sport may give television a new dimension.