- January 11, 2010
- 1:48 pm
- Donald Heider
Avatar, Return of Stereo 3D
By Jamason Chen
January 1, 2010, I finally made my walking trip to the movie theater for the film “Avatar”. Before I went to the theater I checked the movie schedule online so I would make the movie trip on time without wasting my time for missing a current show. I saw two different show schedules for the same movie, but I did not pay any attention to the difference, since I thought they might be scheduled based on such successful box office record.
I arrived in the theater about 20 minutes before the show started. No long line of the moviegoers. An old woman before me was going to see the same movie as I was. “9 dollars,” the ticket saleswoman said to her. “I have a senior card so I might get a discount.” the lady answered. That saleswoman told her, “this is $6 early show price plus $3 service fee.” I was confused, “service fee?” I have never heard about an extra “service fee” for watching a movie. Then, I realized that this version of Avatar is in stereo 3D so the “service fee” might cover the 3D facility cost. However, I watched 3D movies before in the theater which did not charge any extra service fee for those goofy red and blue goggles. Even for the TV show Medium, the goggles were given away on the street for free. What is the $3 service fee really for? Aha, a pair of nicely “Made in USA” Ray-Ban style light grey and less fragile plastic glasses. Maybe some intangible 3D technical service fee is also included?
I completed my Master’s study in mass communication with a thesis topic in stereoscopic visual communication (not many researches have been done in this field especially in context of its cultural impact in the history of visual communication and future applications with digital visual technologies). I have done some experimental works with DIYed stereoscopic video cameras and projection system such as the one Geo-Wall has been using. I know how complicated and difficult to emulate a natural binocular vision stereoscopic visual experience in terms of technology and technique. This is the major reason why the stereoscopic visual media has never been successfully popularized in the history of visual communication until recently when the digital technology seems to bring the potentiality of stereoscopic 3D visual representation back to visual communication.
I went into the theater and thought to myself that based on my previous experience of watching stereo 3D movie how I might stand this 2 hour and 45 minute movie with some level of eye strain, even though my research experiment proved that the polarized binocular projection system should generate less eye strain stereo 3D effect compared to the anaglyphic system. However the stereo 3D data process with a polarized system would be more complicated and resource consuming. Is the technology really up to the stage that brings the stereo 3D visualization vividly into our parlor again? Well, put my goggle on and enter the stereo 3D world, let the experience surprise me or disappoint me.
Within 2 hour and 45 minutes, I was amazed by the stereo 3D effect with all the visual characters floating in front of me and almost touchable in my arm distance. Eye strain I was concerned with never happened. Surprise rather than disappointment, eye-popping rather than tedious. I recognized a stereo 3D visual communication era is coming.
After the movie I met with the theater manager Peter Stern. He showed me the digital projection system which sits next to an abandoned film projector. The digital projector is made by SONY. It has a polarized dual lens optical system. Peter told me that the movie is a digital version that comes in with an encrypted data format in a hard drive. Before the show, the projectionist should unlock the data. After the projection period, the data will be automatically locked. According to an article in Wired, James Cameron worked with SONY to develop a sophisticated dual lens digital movie camera system and used very powerful data process facility to capture and produce the stereo 3D visual effect. Indeed this polarizing projection system has been used by Geo-wall projects for several years, but it is consolidated by SONY into a standardized commercial product. What should we expect next? A stereo 3D video goggle or maybe an i3D-Phone?
All the communications no matter of between the movie and the viewers in the theater or between the characters in the movie storyline reveal the fact that digital technology is becoming a dominant power in our life, which not only extends our senses in the real world but also creates an interface between our real world and the virtual world we have been thinking about and finally diminish the interface, if it is possible. The stereo 3D technology may likely be the engine that visualizes the world in our mind in front of our eyes, not just to our eyes.
10 years ago, the digital visual technology with the image sensor and data process started challenging the traditional analog visual communication. In the next 10 years, what can we expect in our visual communication? With this Avatar in stereo 3D, I have seen the new horizon that is expanding our visualization dimensions and enrich our visual communication experience as the stereo audio has done to enhance our immersive hearing experience.
Stereo 3D imaging is back.