Digital in the third dimension
There was time when horror film franchises were obliged to release the third film in their series in 3D, a trend that began with Friday the Thirteenth Part III, and culminated in that much maligned chunk of rotting seafood known as Jaws 3D.
In October 1975, Steven Spielberg explained his lack of involvement with the Jaws sequels, telling the San Francisco Film Festival that "making a sequel to anything is just a cheap carny trick."
This from the guy who would later insist on shoehorning aliens into the world's greatest adventure franchise, with the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Spielberg is right of course, sequels sometimes seemingly exist only to squeeze more revenue out of a brand, and tagging 3D onto the second sequel was, during the 1980s, the ultimate double gimmick.
Perhaps because of the low quality of titles released in 3D during the 1980s revival of the format - which included duds like Amityville 3D, and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, which starred Molly Ringwald as a sort of ginger Princess Leia - no one really took the format seriously. That is, until a new generation of 3D technology finally caught up with the 15-year-long ambition of notorious perfectionist, James Cameron. Clearly, Avatar changed the movie game, but its influence extends beyond the silver screen.
"The movie Avatar made everyone take notice of the wonders of 3D technology," explains Kishan Deepak Palija, managing director at Geekay Group, the company responsible for distributing the Nintendo 3DS in the UAE - a product which is receiving rave reviews and which Kishan links to the success of Cameron's animated masterpiece.
Indeed, Kishan has a point, in just two short years since Avatar was released, the consumer electronics market has been awash with a plethora of shiny new 3D-enabled products.
Gaming might be the most technologically forward-thinking corner of the entertainment industry, so in a sense it's interesting to note that film beat them to the punch in heralding the new 3D era.
While 3D titles aren't really widely available, the latest buzz in 3D gaming is in the portable gaming realm, where the Nintendo 3DS is the first to market with a glasses-free 3D platform for gamers on-the-go. This can only be a good thing if you think about it - teenagers seem unlikely to rock clunky 3D glasses at the mall where their peers can see them. In addition, Kishan expects the extremely popular Nintendo DS series of products to attract a broadening demographic, insisting, "With upcoming games like Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil 3D, in addition to other action and sport games, it's clear that Nintendo 3DS is not just for kids but for adults as well."
Panasonic, Sony, Samsung and LG - these major manufacturers and many more have hopped aboard the 3D-TV express, and have been barrelling into retail stations across the globe for some time. Much like the gradual shift from chunkier CRT to flat-panel displays, it's likely that 3D will eventually be an option on all sets since it's just one more feature that can be switched off, allowing the viewer to watch normal 2D programming with no hassle. On the flipside, many 3D TVs can also convert 2D sources to 3D but, given the careful execution involved in crafting a successful 3D film à la Avatar, it's unlikely that this functionality will yield compelling results.
3D Cameras and Video Recorders
3D photography isn't actually that new, and I can attest from personal experience that the format can be quite compelling; my wife's grandmother documented her travels in the Mediterranean many decades ago with a stereoscopic slide camera to stunning results. Greek fishermen seem ready to leap out of their boats and fry up a fish dinner in these treasured family photos. On the downside, 3D slides of old had to be seen with a clunky, hand-held viewer, and can't be projected. But the image quality was staggering, offering the most compelling version of 3D that this writer has experienced.
Among the current crop of 3D cameras, implementation varies. JVC, Fujifilm and others use dual lenses and sensors, a method that more closely mimics the method used by grandma's old 3D slide camera. Panasonic, on the other hand combines a stereo lens with a single sensor to render its 3D images and has a 3D-capable consumer-grade camera with interchangeable lenses - the model, above, uses dual sensors.
Of all the emerging 3D products, phones seem the least likely to blow up, although the caller's head shooting out of the phone when it rings could be cool. Barring that, there's the possibility that consumers might want to watch 3D films on their phone or enjoy 3D gaming on the go. Dedicated 3D personal gaming devices are likely to maintain a quality advantage over 3D phones for the foreseeable future since Nintendo and Sony only need to worry about the gaming component, while phone manufacturers have a very wide basket of features on which to innovate. Still, Angry Birds 3D could be incredibly fun; but we'll have to wait and see if it hatches.