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3D Technology 3D Technology

3D Technology seems as though it's boomed in the last year, with all the big manufacturers launching ranges of 3D Televisions, Projectors, Cameras, Camcorders and Laptops.

I use the word 'seems' because, in all truth, nobody wants it yet. It's been mass marketed and millions have been spent advertising 3D technology to consumers - when really, there's no high demand for it.

That's not to say that people have been fooled into buying 3D products.

Interest first arose when it was re-introduced into the world of cinema. Back in 2003, James Cameron (producer of Avatar) brought out a documentary about the Titanic called Ghosts of the Abyss. Based around the IMAX format, Ghosts of the Abyss took full advantage of the 3D capabilities of the time, and became renowned as a visually impressive success.

3D_Cinema.jpgI think we all remember 3D as being a way to make objects fly out of the screen, and for everyone in the audience to dive for cover. But the modern use of 3D seems to have differed slightly from that major use of effects. We're finding more and more that it's being used to create very impressive looking scenes and contrasts between the foreground and background.

This has come around from the world's new found lust for image quality. High Definition revolutionised the way we think about digital footage, no matter what the format - be it sports, a movie, or a documentary - we all long for that crisp, smooth HD feel.

Now that 3D has domesticated itself in a new wave of LED Televisions, we just need the content to fill our screens with. Unfortunately, there's a distinct lack of broadcasters using 3D at the moment. Because of this, all of those new shiny 3D televisions may not leave the shelves as quickly as the manufacturers are hoping in 2011.

But what can be done about it, and what are the other applications of modern-day 3D that are available?

Who Does What?

The world's leading technology manufacturers have all jumped aboard the 3D ship, but what 3D products do they make, and what are they bringing out in 2011?

Acer
Home Projectors, Education Projectors, Laptops, PC Monitors

3D_Products.jpgBenQ
Home Projectors, Education Projectors

LG
Passive & Active Home TVs, Home Cinema Systems

NEC
Education Projectors

Panasonic
Home TVs, Home Cinema Systems, Camcorders

Samsung
Home TV, PC Monitors, Home Cinema Systems

Sharp
Home TVs, Commercial Projectors, Education Projectors

Sony
Laptops, Home TVs, Home Projectors, Home Cinema Systems, Camcorders, Digital Cameras

Toshiba
Home TVs

Domestic Market

3D_LED_Logo.jpgThe domestic market is the holy grail for manufacturers of 3D technology. You can see that from the lists above - they all want a piece of the home entertainment pie. But it's certainly not without it's disadvantages.

3D comes in two forms: Polarised or Alternate-Frame (Passive and Active respectively). TVs which use the Polarised technology are sometimes seen as being slightly worse quality than the Alternate-Frame solution. This is mainly because they only need to use the passive glasses (ones which look very similar to sunglasses and are much cheaper). However, it's the passive glasses that you use in the cinema, meaning that you will still get very good quality 3D images with them.

3D_Glasses_New.jpgThe Active 3D technology is slightly more high-end. The glasses alone are sometimes three times the price of the Passive versions. But, Active 3D technology does provide you with a much better 'jumping-out-of-the-TV' experience. It's left up to the consumer which choice to go for - especially as some manufacturers only sell either Active or Passive systems, not always both.

The price of 3D Televisions has dropped dramatically in the past 3 months alone. This is because they are now mass-marketed and manufactured by a lot more leading technology companies - meaning the 3D modules used in the Televisions, Projectors, Cinema Systems etc. are now produced by the boat-load and are therefore much cheaper. But, there is still room for improvement on the price, some people still think that £1,000 is too much for a television. I'd estimate that prices on 3D televisions will drop by around 10% by the end of 2011.

"That's not much", I hear you say. Well, that's entirely down to how well they sell. 3D is being incorporated into almost everything from Laptops to Handycams. If the big broadcasters, including the online video giants like YouTube, start supporting 3D productions, then there may well be a boom in the 3D market - much like there was for HD. In this case, they can be made and sold for less, meaning 3D bargains all round for the January sales in 2012.

Domestic_3D_TV.jpgOnly time will tell if 3D is going to succeed this year, and surpass the test of time in the domestic market. It's certainly where the battle will be won or lost. There just needs to be a big investment by the likes of Sky, BBC and other broadcasters to push more 3D channels out there. When they provide us with the content, we'll buy the products we need. But for some reason, they still think this process will work in reverse, and that'll we'll buy the products before we've had a real good chance of testing the investment. Obviously some people will jump straight onto the 3D express, but for now, I'd wait to see where it's heading.

Education Market

In schools across the country, projectors are being used with interactive whiteboards, for presentations, to show videos and much more. Around 90% of the UK's classrooms have a projector of some sort working in it today.

Only a fraction of classrooms still use televisions. This is because they are too small scale and are generally less cost-effective. The obvious choice was to introduce 3D into schools through the medium of projection.

3D_Classroom.jpgNow, I've had a demonstration of a few 3D projectors, so I can say from experience that they are very impressive. Acer, BenQ and NEC are the big three with 3D projectors currently on the market, and they all come in at attractive prices - from just £450, you can have a 3D projector in your classroom.

But wait... you also need to buy the glasses for all of your students. So 30 students, all needing glasses costing £70 a pair. In reality, a full 3D system for your classroom will set you back around £3,000.

That said, the use of 3D is truly astonishing. You can download applications for all types of lessons, from Anatomy to Zebras (I couldn't think of anything else beginning with 'Z'). I was fortunate to see a BenQ 3D projector in action about 8 months ago, and it truly stood out for me. You really do see things in 3D, as if it's right in front of you, in full detail and brilliant clarity.

I would recommend this application if you really want to impress. Unfortunately, at present, there is not a massive amount of 3D lesson content available, but Texas Instruments (the designer of DLP 3D Technology) do provide a list of all the 3D content suppliers for education.

Commercial Market

R2_D2_Projection.jpgWe'd all like to have a little R2-D2 robot in the middle of our conference tables which could produce live 3D holograms of clients from across the globe. Until that day, we'll have to suffice with bog-standard projectors and flipcharts.

In all reality, 3D is very impressive, but has no place in the commercial market at present. 3D Televisions are honed towards the domestic market, while projectors are for educational use.

Even digital signage, which is everywhere you look nowadays, isn't fully optimised for 3D. Reason being that, unless everyone wears the glasses when out and about, they won't be able to take full advantage of the 3D within the signage.

There are solutions in production for 'Glasses-less' 3D screens, but they can only be viewed in 3D from certain angles. Get too close, or view it from the side and all 3D capabilities are made redundant. Not ideal for the amount of money that you'd have to spend on it.

Summary

Old_3D_Cinema.jpg

All-in-all we're still to be 'WOW-ed' by 3D Technology. It can be impressive when used on a huge IMAX Screen, or when projected to a classroom of students and used as a teaching aid. Otherwise, it simply stands out as a new definition. Like I said before, it does provide great quality and contrast between the foreground and background; but this, to me, seems like a glorified, over-priced solution to a problem that doesn't exist - HD solved the pixel problem!

It's yet to be universally taken upon by the broadcasters too, another major issue. Sky have launched their first 3D channel, which mainly shows re-runs of football matches and movies, but until they expand it, along with the BBC and other broadcasters, we'll have a shortage of content.

3D_Sky.jpgSky do have the capabilities to have 3D movie, sports, documentary and arts channels, but even they are still waiting for more content to be produced and more 3D sales to be made before they invest.

It's a vicious circle really, much like HD was when first launched: there are a lot of technology manufacturers integrating it into their new products, but at the moment they're overpriced and don't serve a purpose. There's also not enough 3D content to suffice people buying the technology, hence the lack of sales in 2010.

Definitely a luxury rather than a necessity. But unlike HD, which did surpass criticism and is now widely used and optimised in many different formats, 3D just has too many disadvantages - and there's no easy way of getting round them.

Perhaps in 2-5 years time, if glasses-less 3D televisions are made without the downfall of the 'sweet-spot' (where you can only see the 3D image from a certain position), then it may catch on; certainly in the digital signage market and as a high-end domestic entertainment solution. Until then though, 3D just doesn't live up to our expectations.

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