You could call it a struggle between different dimensions. Today's video devices, from Apple iPads to flat-screen TVs, are slimmer than ever before; the upcoming Sony Xperia Tablet Z, for example, is just 0.26 inches (6.6 millimeters) thick. Yet gaze into the screens of these slim-line devices and ‘flat' is the last thing you will think. Thanks to advances in visual technology, video now has a depth of field that viewers could not have dreamed of in the past.
The ultimate in depth of field, of course, is three dimensions (3D), a format that has taken off in cinemas over the last decade thanks to the popularity of films such as the 2009 blockbuster Avatar, by director James Cameron, or Ang Lee's Life of Pi. In the last two years, five of the top 10 grossing movies in the United States were shown in 3D. It might be just a matter of time before big brands are giving the format a similar level of attention. The reason they are not already is that while audiences have become comfortable with the idea of donning polarized glasses for 3D cinema viewing, the format has yet to catch on in a big way with home viewers, says Andrew Murchie, a 3D film maker based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
"It's obviously successful in cinema, there is no debate about that," he says. "If you make 3D films, people will come and see them. TV is the battleground at the moment. There is not really sufficient content. And I think the biggest issues are the glasses."
Unlike the cinema, where viewers are (hopefully) wholly focused on the screen, home viewers tend to multitask while in front of the TV, so wearing 3D glasses can be a hindrance, Murchie says. That could be set to change, though.
And even if glasses-free 3D takes a while to take off, there are signs the traditional version could already be slowly growing in popularity in the home. When Ridley Scott's sci-fi smash Prometheus went on sale in United States stores, for example, Nielsen VideoScan reported a quarter of the Blu-ray copies bought were in 3D.
The online video site is able to encode and play back 3D films, and Murchie says the format is catching on. He recently produced a short horror movie for YouTube, in 3D and 2D, and says, "45 times more people chose to watch it in 3D. The difference was phenomenal."
With this growing interest, it seems logical that sooner or later advertisers might want to muscle in on the act. Many are already exploring the medium for cinema ads, but so far only a few brands, such as Red Bull, seem to have woken up to the potential of 3D on smaller screens. As the general amount of 3D content grows, though, others will probably follow, says Murchie.
"If there was a big enough subscriber base and enough content then advertisers would start putting more money behind it," he believes. "It is surprising more advertisers are not jumping on board because the message recall is considerably better from the 3D viewing experience."
In addition, the technical barriers to creating 3D productions have fallen to the point where the cost is practically the same as for 2D, and when you shoot in the former you get a perfectly good 2D copy anyway. Because of the immersive nature of 3D, it can provide a more engaging advertising experience and, for the time being at least, the format gives advertisers a way to stand out in a marketplace increasingly cluttered with other marketing messages. It all adds up to a bright outlook for advertisers… provided you are wearing 3D glasses, of course.
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