3D's Tipping Point and Your Living Room

Just about every major studio is developing 3D movies nowadays, and DreamWorks Animation for one says every single production it does will be 3D. No surprise there.

What might surprise you is how quickly this kind of technology is coming to your living room.

Japan's Toshiba unveils the prototype model of a 3D television set 'Cell Regza'.
Yoshikazo Tsuno | AFP | Getty Images
Japan's Toshiba unveils the prototype model of a 3D television set 'Cell Regza'.

While the promise of 3D movie-making has been around for decades, consumers will only be waiting a matter of months before they can enjoy this kind of experience on their TVs at home.

Forget plasma, forget LCD and LED, even HDTV. And get ready for a new breed of televisions that will be on sale just after the new year.

Sure, James Cameron's "Avatar" grabs the headlines; same goes with Disney's recent "A Christmas Carol." Fact is, filmmakers are learning to tell their stories in a new dimension, and the technology they need to get the job done is finally here. There are no fewer than 17 3D releases scheduled for next year alone.

"If you look overall, 3D is probably the biggest single transformation because it will impact not just the movie and the content itself, but also the cinema houses, it will impact TVs," says Intel's executive vice president Sean Maloney.

Says DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, "Today, we are probably the ultimate marriage between technology, technology innovation and art."

And his team is embracing the concept. Just ask one of the industry's top 3D animators, Phil McNally, who works at DreamWorks and legally changed his name to "Captain 3D." (No, really, he did!)

"What's different at DreamWorks Animation is that all movies are 3D from the beginning," he says. New hires are given cool little 3D cameras (essentially two consumer digital cameras linked together) and they wander around the company's Glendale campus shooting images, practicing with the technology so they can get a better grasp of what it does, how it looks, and how they can use it to tell their stories better. Rudimentary yes, but also very effective.

"We have really crossed that line where technology has been solved," he says.

And the line hasn't merely been crossed at the studios, but the theaters as well. The cost can be exceptionally prohibitive too; trading up to new digital projectors that are 3D compatible can run $100,000 or more. So enter one of the oldest names in Hollywood projection technology now offering one of the newest, and most inexpensive options for theaters to upgrade to 3D.

Technicolor has developed a way to turn film into a 3D proposition for pennies on the dollar. No need to go all digital, the Technicolor technology marries a new kind of lens with a new kind of film that gives theater owners and theater goers a tremendously cost-effective 3D option.

Ahmad Ouri, Technicolor's top strategic executive tells us, "This lense assembles the left and right eye images as the film goes through the projector, and it produces a very, high-quality 3D image."

That's in the theater. But what about at home? Get ready for 3D television shows. And I'm not just talking 3D cartoons, but real-world programming, thanks to an up-and-coming 3D pioneer called 3Ality Digital in Hollywood. Company CEO Sandy Climan tells us, "We allow two cameras to see the way your left and right eye see." And it works. His technology has already been deployed successfully at a U2 concert, a Miley Cyrus special, and a college football game, and the images I saw were absolutely stunning. So much better than the experience in the movie theater. It was awesome.

Indeed, production costs run about 25 percent more than a traditional 2D operation, but the end result is well worth the added investment. And 3Ality's business is off to the races.

"We will see a doubling this year, but the explosive growth is starting this year. The trends are happening," says Climan. "Cinema will be a wonderful business for us, but broadcasting will be a gargantuan business for us."

Yes, you still have to wear those glasses, but the glasses are getting far more stylish, far more effective. And heck, it's a lot easier wearing those glasses at home then looking so strange out on a date at movie theater. I actually don't mind the glasses. As long as they work. And only recently have they really begun to work.

Over the next several months, new 3D capable televisions will be released from Sony , Samsung, Panasonic, LG and Toshiba. This promises to get a lot of attention at January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and if you get a chance to experience it, you should. For me, seeing 3D TV for the first time reminded me of that first time I saw virtual reality at a Fujitsu laboratory in Kawasaki, Japan almost 20 years, or HDTV that first time at a Comdex a decade ago. 3D TV is fascinating, the technology is here, and Hollywood's already embracing it.

And you will too. 3D TV is no longer just "realistic." It's real.

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