3D The Next Chapter

3D cinema divides opinion but, as one recent debate proved, quality is key to the format’s future


refreshingly low-tech introduction to 3D was given by Dave Monk, CEO of EDCF, when he asked the audience at the IBC Big Screen event to shout out what they think is wrong with today’s 3D cinema, Scribbling responses on a flip chart, the list wasn’t unexpected, including lack of brightness, cross-talk, hot-spots, wearing glasses, headaches, fatigue, seeing the screen texture, etc. It served as an excellent starting point  for an interactive discussion on 3D’s future.

Three clips from Avatar, firstly in 2D at 14fL and then 3D at 14fL, both excellent, made the point that DCPs must be mastered for the appropriate brightness level if we are to see the full range of contrast and colours — an image mastered for showing at 4.5fL projected at an increased brightness of 14fL will look washed out and unsatisfactory.

To discuss the subject, David Hancock from IHS Markit had assembled an expert panel — Arjun Ramamurthy from 20th Century Fox, Giovanni Dolci from IMAX, Michael Bradbury from Odeon Cinemas and Travis Reid from RealD.

Is 3D still active in Cinemas?

A definite ‘yes’ answered the question of whether 3D is still active, with David Hancock providing statistics showing that 57.8% of all screens are 3D capable. There are some 93,000 3D screens worldwide, bringing in  $8billion in box office receipts, and 44,000 3D screens in China. In the 12 years since digital 3D came to the market, it has attracted a significant audience (some cinemagoers love it, others don’t) and is here to stay — it’s not just a flash in the pan.

Arjun explained that Fox are definitely hanging in with 3D, and that they want it to be used to bring forward the creative filmmakers’ vision. Giovanni was asked why IMAX have pulled back on 3D. He denied this, saying that they embrace all formats. To them 3D is one part of the whole cinema package. Travis Read noted that RealD research has shown that 20% of the cinema audience actively seeks out 3D, 20% prefers 2D, with the all-important 60% simple there to see the film. The marketplace is varied throughout the world, and some only go to see a film when it is in 3D. Mike Bradbury explained that, with hundreds of screens to be responsible for, the number of competing technical alternatives for 3D and the complete lack of standards means that 3D is a technical nightmare for an exhibitor like him. As well as the different systems, he has to cope with a wide range of different types and sizes of screens – some of the existing auditoria are the wrong shape for a 3D silver screen. As early digital projectors age, exhibitors are spending more on lamps than ever to maintain brightness levels.

One questioner from Saudi Arabia noted 3D had failed in the marketplace and asked if 3D would be available solely in cinemas in the future, or whether 3D TV would make a comeback. Travis said he had seen no sign of a 3D TV resurgence, but had noted renewed interest in the US Pay Per View TV sector, where some 3D movies are creeping back, so there is still a chance of 3D returning to TV. Fox provides content for a range of media outlets, not just cinema, and they work with display manufacturers. There is currently a great reluctance from them to move to 3D with their UHDTV displays.

Gary Feather from display manufacturer Nanolumens said that 3D images should not come forward out of the screen, but should provide the effect of looking out of a window rather than taking part in an event. Arjun disagreed, saying it should be up to the creative filmmaker to decide such things — and he threw in the problem of where the subtitles should go in a 3D picture.

The 8K TV displays at IBC really do give the impression of looking out of a window — so might higher resolution cinema displays replace 3D in cinema? Travis responded that the director isn’t necessarily wanting to provide reality. He or she wants control of depth of field which 3D provides.

Quantity or quality?

David Hancock asked whether the industry, rather than producing 40 3D films a year, might produce fewer 3D films but of higher quality, so that audiences learn a 3D movie is special. Some felt demand for 3D is insufficient, others that they would love to make lots of 3D films for 14fL showings, but the cinemas aren’t capable of showing them. Mike Bradbury noted that there are real concerns with current 3D films, whose quality has deteriorated in the past couple of years. The 3D films that are not so great spoil the pitch for the few great ones. He supported the idea of fewer, better 3D films, so that cinemas could make the launch of each new 3D film a big event. He also suggested that these highlight films should be advertised as ‘Great in 3D’  rather than simply another film.

Technology can still improve things

Travis from RealD said that 3D technologies are being developed to improve the quality, citing RealD’s Ultimate screen as a technological upgrade for 3D Cinema. The company is refining the design and concentrating on ways to make it cheaper to manufacture. RealD is also working on making 3D glasses lighter and more comfortable for the viewer.

Giovanni Dolci explained how IMAX is trying to bring greater consistency to 3D showings — at present a customer can spend the same money for a great experience in one cinema as for a poor one elsewhere. In IMAX cinemas the whole environment is carefully controlled and consistent from screen to screen, so the customer can be sure of a great experience. He suggested that the rest of the industry might take note of the need for consistency,
a call that Arjun echoed.


Time for a trade association?

David Hancock brought the discussions to a close by suggesting the time might be right for a trade association to liaise between all the actors, technical, commercial, artistic, within the 3D business. The aim of such a body would be to co-ordinate and discuss the industrial and technical side of the business of 3D, while at the same time providing a communication channel between consumers and these technical companies and distributors. It would be able to ensure that consumer get the message that 3D is now great and can be recommended, but also to feedback less favourable messages to the trade when aspects of 3D are not going to plan and need improvement.