Modern 3D Formats – What’s the Difference?

January 20, 2010 at 1:00 am | Posted in Movies, Photography, Theater/Theatre | 1 Comment
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Let’s get one thing straight right from the start. I’m talking about modern 3d Cinema here, not the old-school stuff with the different colored lenses, nor some DVD you are trying to watch on your home television.

Modern 3d, a la Avatar, is done with a little more finesse nowadays. 3D nowadays is usually done with polarized lenses, not colored jobbies. Yes, polarized, like a camera filter or those cool fishing glasses that let you see into the water. Same idea. Every company has a slightly different take on it…this is how patent lawyers stay in business.

The differences are in the details.

Real-D uses a circular polarization. That gives the benefit of being able to maintain the third-dimension illusion if you tilt your head. It’s digital. It uses one projector.  Movies can be transmitted to the theater, or sent on esy to transport and store materials. That means its relatively cheap to upgrade a theater to incorporate. It also means that a theater must use a silver screen (as opposed to current tradition of white) for the best effect, otherwise too much light gets lost and the movie gets dark. The big advantage to us is: it’s sharp. No dust bunnies on the film, as there is no film. The disadvantage is, its just a bit higher resolution than your HDTV and its way bigger.

Traditional IMAX…uses really big film. 70mm film, but it is shown sideways as opposed to vertical, so it has a massive area. It is 15 perforations wide, as opposed to the 5-wide it would be if it was vertical. See…BIG. That means BIG Screens (5 or more stories high and 7 or more stories wide). That also means big equipment like forklifts and specially trained personnel to work all the fancy gizmos in the projection booth. Of course, that means big overhead expenses – hence big ticket prices. Disadvantages to the audience, besides high prices,  are: you can’t tilt your head and maintain the illusion. If your theater uses fancy electronic shutter glasses (not sure any still do) they are bulky (although cool from a techie standpoint). Seating is different than what you are used to. Your ankle will be at the level of the head in front of you…steep seating angles, a disadvantage if you are in a wheelchair or are mobility impaired. The advantage of IMAX? It’s BIG. It has totally awesome uncompressed audio tracks pumped thru massive multi-channel surround systems. Totally immersive.  It’s on film. Resolution is NOT a problem.

Multiplex IMAX (referred to by some as minimax or LieMax) is a  new creation. Some are digital, some are true IMAX film. The system is designed to retrofit multiplex and mall theatres.  The screens are NOT massive like traditional IMAX. The seating is somewhere between your normal theater and the highly-raked traditional IMAX. The price is probably more than a competing 3D format across the hall, maybe as much as a traditional IMAX. If its a digital IMAX, it will use 2 projectors, rather than one. This may be brighter than the competitors in theory, but has some drawbacks in actual practice if things aren’t “just so”. Still can’t tilt your head, due to the linear polarized glasses IMAX likes so much.

Dolby 3D: Similar in concept to REAL-D, with some minor technical differences…you can look up more details yourself if you really care to. Keep this in mind…Dolby likes to patent processes. They have a certain way of doing things. Those things have a way of sticking for the long haul. Tape recorders ended up with Dolby C and/or B, your A/V receivers at home have Dolby Pro Logic or Dolby Digital, or those plus Dolby-“whatever”. They become the standard in a lot of media applications! James Cameron used this 3D format at the Avatar world premier (although tweaked a bit from what you might find at your local multiplex). ‘Nuff said.

Xpand 3D: Don’t know what to say here. Haven’t seen it. The Hollywood Arclight Dome (a favorite amongst movie buffs) is using it for Avatar with mixed reviews. Not sure how astute or trustworthy those reviewers are. Word has it that Disney, PIXAR and ILM have this sytem in their screening rooms. I wouldn’t count these guys out just yet. I’m sure Lucas is working on a way to try to one-up Cameron…so…keep your eyes on these guys. Keep in mind that REAL-D has an immense foothold on the majority of current theatres…but that’s not to say that this one won’t sneak into some “premier” locations…heck its going thru a trial by fire at the Dome as we speak.

Digital 3d: Anybody’s guess as to what’s driving this generic stuff. One local theatre chain here is using all-digital Barco projection equipment that is getting rave reviews and the theatre tells me the 3D system there is made by Imagemaster. Seems to be a REAL-D-like system made by a small upstart company and is cheaper than any of the “big names”.

So, now that you have a primer…go see Avatar, again. See it differently than you saw it last time. Back in the day Lucas marketed THX with “The Audience Is Listening”…well…when it comes to 3D formats nowadays, the Difference is in the Details. The levels of brightness and immersiveness are something you have to experience for yourself. I personally love traditional IMAX with its ultra big, ultra bright film, ultra-enveloping-sound but I really enjoyed the way REAL-D drew me into the film, rather than thrust it out at me.

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