SID 2007: Will 3D Be Big?

Once again, there are lots of 3D displays being shown at SID 2007, but this year I’ve started to think differently about them. Until recently, I only saw them as niche products that had practical appear for narrow applications such as pharmaceutical design or medical procedures. Head mounted goggles are too bulky or geeky for consumer acceptance. Passive or active glasses may be a nuisance for people. And the autostereoscopic technologies only work when you view them from limited, specific positions, and even then they often make my head hurt.

So what has changed? One critical factor is the advent of digital cinema theaters. These make it relatively easy to provide separate left- and right-eye images to audiences, and Hollywood is starting to take advantage of this feature with mainstream feature releases. There have been many IMAX 3D titles, but now we’re also seeing movies such as “Chicken Little” and “Meet the Robinsons“. And if this trend continues and the movie-going public appreciates the 3D effects, I believe that this will pull the technology through to the home living room.

There is a precedent for this. Multichannel sound was developed for the movies back in the 50s. The four channel technology was too complex for home use, so home sound was designed for the two channels that we now call stereo. Before that time, high fidelity sound systems only had a single monaural channel. Just as the expectations were set in the movie theaters for three dimensional sound in the 50s, so may the expectation for three dimensional images be set in movie theaters now.

I expect that it will take years before 3D video takes hold in the home market, but the display industry is ready. All the new Samsung rear projection HDTVs announced for this year have support for 3D images. The early adopters are likely to be the game console enthusiasts, but I believe that it is likely that 3D video could catch on quickly once it gets started.