After all the hype from Avatar and the slew of other films being released in 3-D, it’s hard not to notice the new generation of technology. As with its 1950s era predecessor, today’s 3-D still requires users to wear glasses to get the full experience, but at least gone are the cheap cardboard frames with the red- and blue-colored gels. Instead, the new 3-D technology involves “active shutter” technology that corresponds to the onscreen image, essentially closing half the time to create the stereoscopic effect.
This technology is heading to the home as well, through Blu-ray and even some cable and satellite channels promising original 3-D content. However, to get the true effect you’ll need a 3-D-capable TV, connection to the source material, and to have every viewer wearing a pair of those glasses. The jury is still out on whether 3-D viewing in the home will take off for the masses, but the truth is that 3-D — and simulated 3-D (think first-person shooter video games) — have been around for a while on the computer and video game front.
The even more interesting question is whether 3-D is really ready to catch on in the business world.
One obvious use for true 3-D would be for architects who can currently use existing technology to present 3-D models for a 2-D monitor. With true 3-D on a monitor, even those requiring active shutter 3-D glasses, users could get a greater sense of depth and take virtual guided tours of houses or buildings, even as the blueprints are being written up.
The same technology holds true for virtually any designer, whether their use be for automobiles, city parks, or just a widget. A 3-D program would seem to be the next step in computer-aided design (CAD) programs, and could make models obsolete, especially if coupled with the state-of-the-art 3-D printers that have hit the market in the past few years.
But here’s where the problem lies and why 3-D might not be quite ready for business. There are plenty of 3-D programs that provide a “good enough” experience with current 2-D monitors. Users can still rotate objects, walk through virtual 3-D buildings, and see the extra dimension. Having the added benefit of something “popping out” at you could, in fact, detract from the experience. The 3-D presentation, at least as people get used to the technology, has the potential to be more impressive than the design. Thus the computer program could outshine an architect’s hard work. And for scale models, 3-D printers are starting to fill the void. A single “printout” of the foam-like model can be a lot easier to see and visualize than any object on a screen. Likewise, no matter how a 3-D image looks, it can’t be touched.
Here are the five reasons why 3-D might be almost be ready for prime time, but still have a way to go for business.
- Glasses are required. Currently — and for the foreseeable future — to see 3-D you need some form of glasses. These glasses are falling in price, but could still be $100 or more for each pair. Do a large-scale presentation and 3-D becomes expensive.
- Not all monitors are compatible. Monitors are getting larger, but 3-D is truly a “bigger is better” experience. While 3-D looks impressive on a 52-inch LCD TV, this screen size is too big for most other work applications. That’s a whole lot of monitor to be collecting dust when not in use.
- The learning curve looks more dramatic in 3-D. The key words in CAD are computer-aided design, meaning users still have to work the program. Having to build in true 3-D could literally add a new dimension to the learning curve.
- Modeling in 3-D is already here. Printing in 3-D isn’t just for science fiction; 3-D printers allow for “printouts” of scale models, which can be touched, held, and viewed in person — not just on a screen.
- It could just be a gimmick. Movies in 3-D hit theaters just as TV was catching on (again) in the home, as more people have been getting HDTV at home. In other words, since home TV looks better, are James Cameron and others trying to save the movie theater experience with a gimmick? If that argument holds true, business won’t be buying into it.
The final dimension in all this is that 3-D truly has the potential to do a great many things, but just because it can be done doesn’t mean it should be — or at least it doesn’t mean it will be a better experience for all.