Stereoscopic 3D – worth the effort?

I went to see the IMAX 3D version of Avatar over Christmas – I was sure I ordered digital tickets but the projection didn’t look digital, judging by the registration on the credit scroll. It wasn’t as crisp as I expected either.

Avatar is certainly a technical tour de force. The story is fairly well-worn and a bit predictable, but it’s so well executed that I don’t mind. I was still drawn into the world of the film. But I was most interested in what advances they’d made in the 3D techniques.

To be honest, for the most part the 3D doesn’t add much – until the climactic battle. Having proper depth perception made it far easier to read the action in a frame crowded with flying lizards and helicopters. This fits with my experience of 3D in games – depth perception makes it far easier to judge spatial relationships, particularly handy in a platform game. Generally, third-person games where the player spends most of their time watching the character will look great. First-person games will struggle, because it’s harder to judge which part of the screen the player is focusing on, and it’s critical that the 3D effect matches the viewer’s focal point to avoid headaches.

Although theatres are hoping that 3D will draw audiences away from their home cinema systems, there are several home 3D solutions in development, and a new generation of consoles due within 5 years. I predict that as soon as a new console supports stereoscopic 3D, it will drive takeup of the home 3DTVs far faster than movies will – and theatres will be on the back foot again.