Is Digital 3D really the future (and savior) of movie theaters and moviegoing? Or is it, like theatrical releases in general, merely a preview of what's to come out soon on home video? As much as I have championed the new technology -- with some exception -- and touted it as a sort of new hope for the exhibition industry, I have had some minor doubts that I've been trying to hide away and ignore. But it may finally be the time to acknowledge and address the facts: Digital 3D is not here to save cinemas and it isn't exclusively the future of movie going. It's the future of movie watching as a whole. And since we're already prone to choosing our living rooms to auditoriums, it's mostly the future of home viewing.
There have been 3D processors available for your home theater for years, courtesy of Sensio, which I actually wrote about way back in 2006. However, the expenses required to equip your home with the technology were enough that it didn't seem too threatening. And such products aren't exactly that well known, probably for that reason that they aren't reasonable for the masses. Meanwhile, the new 3D technology for cinemas has since been given a whole lot of exposure, mainly because they are available or are becoming available all over the globe. 3D movies are also more expensive than regular movies, but they're still relatively affordable to just about anyone. So, obviously in the last two years, it has been easy to forget about Sensio and go on being excited about Real D and the other companies making Digital 3D equipment for movie theaters. Unfortunately, an article in Variety this past week completely reminded me of my fears. It told of a partnership between three companies (Luxottica Group, Kerner Optical and D-mented Entertainment) to manufacture, under the brand name Ray Ban, designer 3D glasses that will be for use at home and at the theater, for movies and video games. The glasses are expected to hit the market later this year, as are a number of 3D-capable TVs. Kerner Optical's Yuska Siuicki went on record with a number of predictions, including one about personal 3D glasses eventually being as commonplace as cell phones. And every bit of entertainment will be available in three dimensions, from televised sports to websites to old films, which will be converted from 2D to 3D using technology developed by Siuicki's company.
Sure, the idea is that we will bring these 3D Ray Bans, which will be available in prescription for those of us with four eyes, to the movies. And I don't doubt they are at least more comfortable than the IMAX lenses (I personally like the Real D glasses, two pairs of which I own). But eventually, they're just going to be for rich people who don't bother going to the movies, because they have home theaters with 3D processors, and going to the movies is just too pricey -- even for the wealthy.
The cost for the Ray Bans is not mentioned, though, and maybe they won't even be out of reach for you and me. Yet even if they are, it's a given that non-designer frames will be on the market as well. After all, with so many 3D options available or expected to be available in the home, there will have to be affordable products available to the common consumer. That's just how business works.
Recently, Variety columnist/blogger/deputy editor Anne Thompson wrote about 3D home entertainment items that exist, including the already mentioned 3D-enabled TVs and 3D Blu-ray. And there are also apparently already 3D monitors that don't require glasses, which will at some point make those new Ray Bans obsolete -- not to mention those still-trendily-being-installed 3D-enabled movie screens and digital projectors you keep hearing about.
Obviously, when the real surge of 3D features arrives, whether next year or later, Hollywood is going to want need a home entertainment format that's equivalent. Studios aren't going to want to produce 3D movies that can only be properly enjoyed at the cinema. Regardless of the elevated ticket price, it just won't make them enough profit. They're going to also want to release a 3D DVD or Blu-ray or whatever. Because who is going to want to buy a 2D version of a movie made specifically for 3D release? Well, I guess some people have bought Beowulf on DVD, but in the future there will be less settling.
So in the next few years, it's going to be the same for the theater industry as it is now, with the majority of people staying home and waiting for the video. The 3D images won't be as big, but at least there won't be that awkwardness of trying to find the bag of popcorn while you're wearing the 3D glasses. Nor will there be that discomfort of occasionally becoming conscious of yourself and the rest of the audience looking so silly. It will be just you in your living room, but you won't be alone; the space between the couch and the TV will be populated by the graphics emanating from the screen. And hopefully you'll never have to worry about another new technology beckoning you back to the multiplex.