The world seems to be going through a phase of fascination with 3D. It happens every few years; “3D week on BBC2” with a free pair of anaglyph glasses taped to the front of the Radio Times (or, as is often the case, formerly taped to the cover, before being nicked by someone who desperately wants to watch the rare archive footage of The Queen in 3D, but doesn’t want to incur the cost of the magazine in the process).
This time it’s different though. This time the technology companies are getting involved. We’ve moved past the cheap-but-limited world of anaglyph images, beyond even the more colourful but nauseatingly motive Pulfrich effect and into the world of full colour 3D, even for stationary scenes. Cinemas use polarised glasses, the new breed of 3D TVs typically use LCD shutter glasses. There are even some glasses-free technologies – which is likely to work well for the 3DS, but not so well in practice for typical TV viewing where heads tend to move around and programmes are often half-watched while trying to simultaneously read a magazine, complete that urgent Powerpoint presentation, or eat dinner.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of 3D films, just not the implementation. I’ve been to an arthouse double-feature of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “It Came From Outer Space” and loved every minute of the camply over-the-top oohs, aahs and occasional gasps from the “terrified” audience. I’ve got a stack of anaglyph and Pulfrich glasses from various promotions through the years. I’ve loved the 3D features I’ve seen at IMAX cinemas. And I heartily believe that the 3DS will be an absolute winner.
But the real me – the one who’s not looking for a short gimmicky experience – doesn’t want 3D in a television. For games, maybe – but not for movies, and certainly not for normal run-of-the-mill TV. The fatigue that sets in after a period of wearing 3D glasses (or of having to sit in a predefined spot) makes it a less-than-appealing feature. It seems that I share this opinion with just about everyone I’ve spoken to, and even some technology journalists are less than enthused.
So if nobody is really all that excited about 3D in the home, why is every company trying to push it? Perhaps they’re all trying to out-feature each others products; one adds 3D, they all add 3D to keep up with the Joneses. And the Sonys, Panasonics and Toshibas. But the cynic in me can’t help but feel that the real reasons are twofold: firstly to make all our HD Ready TVs seem as archaic as last century’s CRTs so that we’ll feel compelled to “upgrade” that little bit earlier than we otherwise would; and secondly to finally add a truly distinctive feature to Blu-ray – after all, it seems that most viewers can’t really tell the difference between high- and standard-definition, so without features like 3D what does Blu-ray really offer that DVDs don’t?
Cynicism and personal preferences aside, 3D is all over the tech news these days. And if there’s a bandwagon rolling past, we’ll do our best to hop on board, take the mick a little, then jump off again. It’s what any good satirical webcomic would do.