4K Cinema

Does the “3D dying” now also begin in the cinema?

According to a current market analysis by the MPAA (Motion Pictures Association of America), the figures for 3D cinema performances are at their lowest level in eight years. Does the 3D dying now also begin in the cinema, or does it need fresh technology and content?

In December 2009, “Avatar: Departure for Pandora” was released in the cinemas and caused a real “3D quake”. Due to this blockbuster success, many cinemas finally switched to digital 3D technology. By the end of 2017, around 59% of all movie theaters worldwide were able to show 3D films and although more and more theaters are opening, fewer and fewer moviegoers attend the screenings “with glasses”.

The figures relate them primarily to the US market including Canada, but should also reflect the trend for Europe. The most successful year for 3D was 2010. 2.2 billion dollars were spent on 3D films, which accounted for a good 21% of total sales. At the end of 2017, it was only $1.3 billion and a slim 12%. If one assumes that cinema screenings of 3D blockbusters are more expensive than their 2D counterparts, then probably only every 9th or 10th dollar is sold with a 3D film.

The reasons for this can be manifold. For one thing, far fewer cinema films were offered in 3D. In 2016 there were 52, in 2017 just 44 titles – a minus of 15%. This could also simply be due to a weak cinema year with fewer potential titles. Perhaps film studios are also deliberately deciding against 3D processing because the possibility of secondary marketing is now lacking.

3D in home cinema is dying out

At home theater, 3-D is dead. TV manufacturers had already turned their backs on the “third dimension” in 2016 and 2017. The last 3D-capable TV of a well-known manufacturer came from Panasonic and was also rather an exception (EXW784). This year, no TV set with 3D (whether active or with polarization) has been announced yet. We have already discussed the reasons for this in our article “3D is dead (again)”. Thus, little by little, 3D-capable TV sets are disappearing from living rooms. The only remedy at the moment are beamers and projectors, but they are also increasingly doing without this feature. This means that film studios no longer have the option of marketing the film on 3D Blu-ray.

But there are still fans out there who like to put glasses on their nose to dive even deeper into the movie. Will they at some point find neither technology nor movies with 3D? The question is, is there no stopping the dying or does it perhaps only need a technical revolution to breathe new life into the format?

New technology & films for a “3D revival”?

The TV market has made some drastic technical progress in recent years. Today’s displays have better contrasts, better black levels, can show more colours, show more details and above all are much brighter than before. Many 3D presentations with active glasses were simply not optimal because the shutter glasses darkened the picture noticeably. With the first TV sets from 2016, which reached peak brightness levels of up to 1,000 nits, this “problem” was actually off the table again. OLED televisions from LG, on the other hand, used passive polifilter technology and allowed relaxed movie enjoyment with sufficient brightness.

With micro-LED, the next innovative display technology is already knocking on the door and with it, certainly the possibility of a 3D revival. With fast switching times of the micro-LED pixels combined with a true-colour display and increased brightness, it would certainly be easy to make the displays fit for active 3D display.

Can an “Avatar 2” help?

But maybe the impulse comes from the film industry? James Cameron is known for always using the latest equipment and technology for his blockbuster productions. Maybe “Avatar 2” will surprise you with 4K/3D including dynamic framerate control? That 4K/3D with frame rates of up to 120Hz is possible was shown by director Ang Lee with his presentation of “The Crazy Heroic Tour of Billy Lynn” at the NAB 2016 in Las Vegas. Or is the trend moving towards VR glasses? Cinemas have already been equipped with the glasses, which are supposed to determine each viewer’s very personal film experience.

Personally, I have always enjoyed watching 3D movies and I still like to put on “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1” and sit in front of my 2016 OLED TV. Even if the 4K Ultra HD format has some clear advantages, it is sometimes quite entertaining to say goodbye to the “third dimension”. What are your feelings about this topic? Do you also hope for a rebirth of 3D, or will 3D remain a niche product for you, which you should not pay attention to?