Media would have it that the 3-D format was dying on the vine this past year. 3-D certainly suffers from “Titan-ization,” and its boom days may be in the past, but the format continues to thrive. Major 3-D releases this year demonstrate that it’s still possible for 3-D versions to earn more box office than 2-D counterparts. There are no less than 40 3-D first releases in the pipeline for 2012, with 99 3-D titles already released on Blu-ray. Sitting at a restaurant, a friend recently pulled out his 3-D phone to share his 3-D photos around the table.
The Star Wars Episode 1 re-release in converted 3-D did not strain eyes, and pulled in slightly better box office than predicted. But bloggers continue to expect 3-D to be a gimmick, with objects dangling in front of their face. Stereographers like to avoid such things, as they’ve learned a thing or two about how to not make audience members sick. Notably, no knobs are given to exhibitors that allow them to modify the stereoscopic effect.
It’s possible that audience opinions of 3-D will change as the public becomes more accustomed to viewing 3-D on a regular basis. We reported last month that MasterImage quietly stole the Consumer Electronics Show with its autostereoscopic display for phones and tablets. (Autostereoscopic refers the ability to view 3-D images without special glasses.) Apparently, Qualcomm agreed, showcasing MasterImage’s 3-D display in its top end tablet platform at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this month. As quality autostereoscopic displays become more commonplace, users will become more familiar with 3-D, and will learn to be more discriminate in their observations of visual quality.
What audiences haven’t been exposed to widely is so-called 3-D sound. Three emerging formats are now knocking on cinema doors: Auro3D, IMM Sound, and IOSONO. As with 3-D images, the audience may have an expectation as to what 3-D sound actually is. Directors and distributors may have an expectation, too.
Wikipedia has an entry for “3-D audio effect,” listing three different methods of achieving it, none of which apply to cinema. In the case of Auro3D and IMM Sound, 3-D sound tends to mean the addition of lots of carefully placed surround speakers. These formats preserve the traditional Left, Center, and Right speaker stacks behind the screen. IOSONO not only surrounds the room with speakers, but also replaces the speakers behind the screen. Each format has special algorithms for reproducing a soundfield across their speakers, some very sophisticated. All of these formats have techniques for reproducing a traditional 5.1 or 7.1 soundfield across their speaker array. For some systems, this is the equivalent of the “3-D depth knob” denied exhibitors for 3-D projection. IOSONO positions this differently, saying they can deliver the original intent of a 5.1 or 7.1 soundfield to a wider seating area. But all systems will sound best when reproducing a sound mix intended for the system.
While details of the IMM Sound system are not fully known by us, both Auro3D and IOSONO will preserve the original 5.1 sound mix in the distribution. Very likely, IMM Sound is no different. Play the track on a standard 5.1 system, and you get 5.1 sound as heard by the director. Play the 3-D audio version of the sound track in a properly equipped auditorium, and you also get a director-intended soundfield. But attempt to play the 5.1 track in the 3-D sound auditorium, and one is no longer sure of director’s intent. What the 3-D audio companies must do is demonstrate that they can play standard mixes without departing from director’s intent. No knobs, please.