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3D TV Is Here At Last!

The world of 3D television, photography, movies, scientific tools and prints is finally here. After primitive attempts at 3D for many, many years, top-quality three-dimensional imaging is now available for all.

by Kevin Poulter

While 3D still has some shortcomings, the technology and financial incentives are now in place to achieve a brilliant outcome. Most new 3D systems use specialised cameras with two lenses plus two films or image sensors. Viewing is via special glasses, typically with LCD shutters.

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Edison's short-lived Vitascope, a re-badged system invented by others, but credited to him. Shortly after he produced his own version.

3D has been coming for a long time, nearly 200 years in fact. The Stereoscope viewer was the first true 3D device, magically creating depth from two images glued onto a card, slightly out of register with each other. The images were drawings, prints or photographs.

Stereopsis was first described by Charles Wheatstone in 1838. To display his 3D pictures separately to the two eyes, Wheatstone invented the Stereoscope.

It works by having two images drawn or captured from slightly different perspectives, emulating the distance between the viewer’s eyes. By making closer objects relatively further apart than distant objects, it fools the brain into believing that the image being viewed is actually 3-dimensional.

There are other cues which can enhance the illusion. For example, when the viewer’s eyes are focused on a foreground subject, background objects are out of focus and appear blurred. By purposely blurring the background, an image can re-create this effect.

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Panasonic's integrated twin-lens 3D camcorder for professional use – claimed to be the world's first. 3D video is recorded to SDHC/SD memory cards – improved compression methods make this possible.

Another cue is occlusion of one object by another – the manner in which an object closer to the viewer masks (or occludes) an object further away.

Other cues include the subtended visual angle of an object of known size close to others, horizontal and linear perspective (convergence of parallel edges), vertical position (objects higher in the scene  generally tend to be perceived as further away), haze, desaturation, and a shift to bluishness – again usually in the distance – and the change in size of textured pattern detail.

Finally, to dramatically reinforce the effects in 3D, objects are often filmed coming right at the viewer.

Edison was quick to harness the value of movies via his single-viewer Kinetoscope films, locking up much of the technology in patents for many years. Knowing the lucrative market was in cinemas, Edison made and promoted the Vitascope 2D motion picture projector. It was invented by Thomas Armat and C. Francis Jenkins. Edison agreed to manufacture the machine and films for it but only if it was advertised as a new Edison invention, the Vitascope.

The Vitascope’s first theatrical exhibition was on April 23, 1896, at Koster and Bial’s Music Hall in New York City.

With the advent of sound ‘talkies’, then colour, there was enough wow-factor in movies for decades.

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Panasonic's 3D setup for home viewing through Panasonic glasses shown below.

3D was displayed in various films like monster movies of the 1930s and beyond, in ‘terrifying 3D’, which relied on red and cyan cardboard glasses to create a painfully unconvincing effect. But despite some success, 3D never became mainstream.

In 1952 Cinerama came close to 3D, by projecting images from three synchronised 35mm projectors onto a huge, deeply-curved screen, with 146° of arc.

In Australia from 1960, the Regent Plaza cinema in Melbourne was adap-ted for Cinerama and I saw ‘How the
West was Won’. Filmed with an expan-sive panorama and every depth cue possible, it appeared nearly 3D at times.

Cinerama sound was played back from a full-coated 35mm magnetic film with seven audio tracks. Five tracks were reproduced behind the screen, plus two on the side and back of the auditorium. A sound engineer manually adjusted the sound levels between the surround speakers according to a script!

The projectors and sound system were synchronised using Selsyn motors.

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Cinerama was an immense curved-screen format started in the 50s, with three projectors screening different images. With numerous depth cues, it was the nearest to 3D feel from a 2D format. (Turner Entertainment/Warner Bros.)

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