Why we can’t ditch 3D glasses just yet

This is the first in a series of blogs based on a seminar given at the BBC by Buzz Hays, chief instructor for the Sony 3D Technology Center in Culver City, California. The series starts with an answer to the most common complaint about 3D.

Why we can’t ditch 3D glasses just yet


The question always comes up and rarely gets answered properly, so to hear such a measured dismantling of glasses-less 3D was illuminating. But then, Buzz Hays has been pioneering and improving the art of creating 3D for five years, so when he says we’ll be sticking with the glasses for a while yet, you tend to listen.

The main reason 3D glasses will be around for the foreseeable future is that autostereoscopic displays – those which work without the need for glasses – face problems that simply can’t be surmounted with current technology. I’ll let Buzz explain.

“The big issue is with the resolution of the source material itself. In order for it to be an image that even approximates something like high-def we have to be at least four times the resolution we have right now. So it’s impractical at this point.”

He’s talking about the way current 3D works, in that the left and right eyes’ images both need to be projected and polarised in opposite directions to be combined in your brain – so the picture you see in the cinema is half the resolution it could be. Taking away the glasses means that effect just gets worse. Buzz continues:

“Most of the [autostereoscopic] systems out there require – instead of just the left and right eye view – multiple views, odd numbers such as nine or 13 or, in some cases I’ve seen, up to 27 views. Firstly, somebody has to create all the views, but secondly, if you take a high-def image and you divide the width of the screen by nine then you’ve already cut your resolution by nine, so the image is roughly a tenth of the original resolution.”

“That’s tiny. That’s like a QuickTime movie you’d put in an email. Most self-respecting film makers won’t let their work be so degraded.”

Of course, as Buzz pointed out at the start of his presentation, at CES 2009 the pronouncements were that 3D TV would hit homes within three to five years, yet they’re already beginning to appear within a single year. The pace of progress just can’t be predicted, so who knows when we’ll be able to ditch the specs? “Eventually we’ll get there,” he assured us, “but the glasses really shouldn’t be an impediment.”

I agree with him on that one: if you’re stubborn enough to avoid 3D because the glasses make you look silly, or because you think it’s an effort you shouldn’t have to endure, you’re missing out on what can be a tremendous experience. Kids see the glasses as part of the experience, part of the fun; is it really so hard to buy into that?

“Grown-ups seem to have a problem with the glasses thing,” said Buzz. “When people are adamant, ‘I’d never watch a movie wearing glasses,’ I’m always like [points to his own glasses] ‘Why not? I do it all the time.’”

If that kind of argument doesn’t sway you, sitting in a 3D film without glasses just might. “With most of the early autostereoscopic displays, you can’t move your head. It’s perfect for a date movie, right? Imagine it: you sit here, she sits here, now neither of you move for two hours!”

Sounds almost as romantic as a back-row fumble with the glasses on…

Read more:
Why bad 3D, not 3D glasses, is what gives you a headache.
From the Pole to Pandora: the shaky progress of modern 3D.
Why 3D and modern filmmaking techniques don’t mix.
3D TV: in the home, on a budget and… on the news?

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