Tuesday, August 9, 2011

3-D: Finally Here?

Three-dimensional (3-D) imaging has been a novelty for decades. I remember wearing the red-and-green glasses as a kid and seeing movies that were 3-D, but without realistic colors.

Hollywood has been trying to make 3-D into a viable medium for the past few years, with some success. Some of the movies out recently look very good in 3-D, beyond the gratuitous water squirting or swords being thrust towards the audience.

One of my favorite 3-D movies was "Avatar" that used 3-D to add quite literally an additional dimension to the movie, where backgrounds appeared in the background and even large landscapes had a real depth.

Some have argued that the primary reason why Hollywood likes 3-D is because they can charge a premium for 3-D movie tickets. I'm sure there's a lot of truth to that.

Of course, as a consumer, the biggest drawback of 3-D is having to wear special glasses to see the 3-D effect. While this yields a good 3-D experience, the polarized lenses end up darkening the screen, so the brightness of a movie is subdued.

Screens that don't require the viewers to wear glasses are coming, but so far the biggest limitation is that the viewer must sit within a very small angle in front of the screen.

All of these limitations will be overcome, I believe, and here's why.

I remember when computer screens were all monochrome (typically a green or light grey phosphorescent glow). When color monitors came out, no one could comprehend why we would need color screens.

I also remember when printers came out. Originally, line printers only print one color. First-generation laser printers also printed only black. The costs of four-color printing, when they started to become available, were prohibitive. Again, very few people saw the growth of color printing as becoming commonplace.

Yet most monitors and printers purchased now are color.

I believe that 3-D displays will eventually become standard on personal computers, TVs and in movies. From a personal computer standpoint, I can see where spreadsheets and even word processing documents could benefit from 3-D, much as they now do from color and different fonts. Business charts in 3-D could be far more informative with 3-D as a component.

From a video perspective, there are now consumer grade 3-D video cameras on the market. As 3-D video editing comes of age, we'll have videos on YouTube and of people's vacations that are in 3-D, much as we have people creating 2-D videos now.

While we're still a few years away from mainstream acceptability and technical capability, I believe in 10 years, we'll look back on 3-D capabilities as an essential part of computing, as we now do color monitors and printing.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on  Wednesday 9 August 2011.

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