Technology

Have 3D films had their day?

Fans watch on a screen with 3D glasses the Six Nations rugby union tournament final
Critics often say that having to wear glasses puts people off the idea of 3D viewing

Watch Click's report into whether 3D interest is already fading

With 3D film revenues falling, critics have been quick to point to 3D funerals of the past, but new technology and new investment could see another revival.

With Avatar's cinema release in 2009 came the promise of 3D technology that was here to stay.

Avatar and James Cameron brought with them the fourth wave of mainstream success for 3D, but since then, film revenues have fallen 1% each year for 3D films.

But Jim Chabin, president of the International 3D Society - a society to "advance the art and technologies of stereoscopic 3D content" - said in a 2012 statement: "Moviegoers continue to enjoy 3D movies."

He cited a report the society commissioned saying "most" US cinemagoers liked 3D compared to 2D. Some 71% of people surveyed who had seen a 3D movie preferred the experience.

But, out of a total 1,011 people surveyed, only 373 said they'd rather see 3D over 2D if the 48% who had never chosen to see a 3D movie were included.

Content is king?

Some 3D advocates argue that it is not necessarily the format's fault, but the way it has been used over the past year. This is something the manufacturers and big sponsors of the industry are keen to point out.

"The consumer today, if they wanted to, could watch everything in 3D, including the Six O'Clock News," says Tim Page, senior manager of product marketing at Sony.

"It's just about getting native 3D content to get a better experience. There are some things I'd prefer to watch in 3D and others I'd prefer to watch in 2D.

"If it's filmed well and carefully in 3D, people will go and see it. When Avatar came out, people rushed out to see it in 3D because it was the big movie at the time.

"It's all about the quality of the 3D and the overall experience."

Then if content is king, what is on the horizon?

Throughout 2013, there are some big name 3D films coming out - Jurassic Park 3D, Star Trek into Darkness, The Great Gatsby, Iron Man 3, the next Hobbit film and many more.

But in lists of "most-anticipated" movies, 3D content does not make as big an impact as might have been expected. In Yahoo's list, for example, about a third of their top 25 will be offered in 3D. For whatever reason, the other two-thirds remain in two dimensions.

'Small proportions'

This take-up has been equally slow in the home. Recent figures from the US showed no more than 120,000 watching 3D channels at any one time, though exact figures are difficult to calculate with low viewing figures.

With all this money spent on marketing and still most homes remaining without 3D capabilities, developers could be left frustrated.

"Not frustrated, I think more realistic," says Ken Hong, of LG Electronics.

"We're not going to be able to change people overnight, these things take time. How long did it take high definition to get into every home?"

About 70% of UK adults own an HD or HD-ready TV set, according to Ofcom.

In that same report, its statement on 3D said: "A small proportion have a smart TV or 3D-enabled television." It amounts to 6% of people in the UK.

This has not stopped larger broadcasters announcing big events.

Sky announced that the first live 3D broadcast of Formula 1 will show all four days of the final testing weekend, before the start of the season.

No further plans about Sky's F1 3D future have been announced but the Sky 3D channel was the first European channel of its kind.

Predictions have already been made that this is a dry run before a bigger rollout. And it is not the only broadcaster experimenting with new ideas.

In 1963 - a decade after the first 3D cinema trial in colour - Doctor Who appeared on TV for the first time.

Exactly 50 years on, the BBC is transferring the Doctor to 3D to celebrate the anniversary.

Show creator Steven Moffat believes it is "about time" it was in 3D.

"Technology has finally caught up with Doctor Who and your television is now bigger on the inside," he said.

"[It's] a whole new dimension of adventure for the Doctor to explore."

But strictly speaking it is not a new dimension - the show was aired once in 3D in 1993, when current Doctor Matt Smith was 11 years old.

Some 3D satellite services around the world, like Canal+ in France, have closed down.

'Headache-inducing'

In the gaming industry, things are a little different, with one of the biggest game of 2012 receiving a big 3D launch.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 made $500m (£320m) on its first day of sale, but it remains unclear, because of the difficulty on ascertaining detailed statistics, how many gamers use the function.

That hasn't stopped 3D advocates being bold.

"Games are probably why a lot of PS3 gamers have upgraded to 3D," Fox executive Danny Kaye told Forbes.

But in a similar way to the TV industry itself, 3D as a marketing tool faded from view at the last E3 gaming conference, with announcements of new 3D technology few and far between.

Since then, Microsoft has patented an immersive video games display system that projects images of the title's environment around a player's room.

Maybe then, a more literal take on the idea of 3D imagery.

A lot will be learned from the impending announcements of new Microsoft and Sony games consoles.

Oscar-winning film editor Walter Murch certainly has clear opinions on 3D's future:

"[It's] dark, small, stroby, headache inducing, alienating. And expensive," he wrote in an open letter to the Chicago Sun-Times in 2011.

"The question is: how long will it take people to realise and get fed up?"

But technology companies still believe people are a long way from being fed up and the death of 3D been greatly exaggerated.

"It's almost becoming a feature that's standard in TVs like 'Smart' or having an internet connection," says Page.

"We're not going away from 3D at all. It's still there and very actively promoted as a feature."

Click is on BBC News Channel and BBC World News on both Saturdays and Sundays.

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