There's little doubt that James Cameron's heavily marketed sci-fi release Avatar will make a lot of money at the box office. But what impact will the film have on 3D entertainment in the home?
Avatar, which cost more than £180m to make, uses state-of-the-art 3D filmmaking techniques to create a visually stunning alien world. The spectacle, rather than the story, is the selling point here, and you can bet that Hollywood will churn out similar fare to capitalise on the 3D craze.
3D at home?
But will the 3D trend extend to home entertainment too? In recent months, the consumer electronics industry has been working behind the scenes to build the framework for 3D in the home. The Blu-Ray Disc Association has announced specifications for creating full 1080p 3D Blu-Ray content. The first 3D-enabled Blu-ray players will likely debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.
Meanwhile, major TV manufacturers are hoping 3D TV becomes the next big thing. Sony, for instance, predicts that 3D sets will compose 30 to 50 percent of all the TVs it sells in its 2012 fiscal year.
Avatar's impact on 3D Blu-ray
Blu-ray's movers and shakers are optimistic that Avatar will whet consumers' appetites for home 3D.
"While I have not seen the movie yet myself, I have read enough rave reviews to believe that it could transform a lot of sceptics into 3D believers," says Pioneer executive Andy Parsons, chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association.
"We have always said that Blu-ray, as was DVD before it, is a content-driven business. With many of the studios now putting enormous resources and creative energy into 3D for the theater, it's only a matter of time before consumers will be striving to achieve a similar experience in their own homes."
Avatar's 3D: gimmick or godsend?
Granted, Avatar packs a visual wallop. But 3D movies are hardly new. House of Wax, a 1953 horror film with Vincent Price, had a 3D version, as have other movies over the past few decades. So what's different this time? And how will the new 3D revolutionise home entertainment?
"3D is not some sort of gimmick in this new generation of films - it's being used to completely change the storytelling experience. I read one Avatar review yesterday where the reporter said that after the film ended, he felt as if he had actually visited the location of the film instead of having just watched it from a distance," writes Parsons, who says he's heard similar reactions from viewers of recent 3D films such as Disney/Pixar's Up.
The hope is that 3D Blu-ray can create the same immersive experience, and that new, high-quality 3D movies such as Avatar and Up will create consumer demand.
Early adopters (Guinea pigs)
But are 3D films enough to drive home adoption of 3D entertainment systems, which would require a significant consumer investment, including a new HDTV set, a 3D Blu-ray player, a few pairs of 3D glasses and (for a truly immersive experience) surround-sound speakers?
"If the published content is engaging enough, and the experience is fun enough, I think the next time consumers are ready to buy a TV, they will seriously consider one that can reproduce 3D on Blu-ray," write Parsons, who stressed there's no guarantee that recent 3D movies will appear on 3D Blu-ray any time soon. (But it's a safe bet they will at some point.)
Blu-ray with 3D would certainly appeal to early adopters first, the same risk-takers who invested in HDTV a few years back. If it succeeds there, 3D Blu-ray would then migrate to the mass market.
"A good number of the early adopters may be ready to move their first HDTV into another part of their homes, and upgrade to a newer, better set with 3D. Most US households have more than one standard-definition TV in them, so I think HDTV can follow a similar path," Parsons adds.
Okay, but what about those clunky 3D glasses? We'd have to wear those at home, right?
Yes, but that may change eventually. "There are a lot of technology hurdles to get over first," Parsons writes. "Glasses will probably be part of the equation for quite a while. Perhaps making them less clunky could be a market opportunity for some companies."