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Tech Report: Back to the Future – Get Ready for 3D TV

By Michael Connolly

The stars were well and truly out at the always-exciting and increasingly important International Comic-Con event, which wrapped up this past weekend in San Diego.

Don Cheadle and Scarlett Johansson previewed Iron Man 2, next summer’s sequel in what is sure to be a long-lasting and hugely successful franchise; Robert Downey Jr. was there to promote his forthcoming Sherlock Holmes movie; Seth Rogen was there for The Green Hornet; and even a new and improved G.I. Joe was there, courtesy of Hasbro, to promote a new movie, video game and toy line!

But perhaps the biggest star of the show wasn’t a real actor or even an action figure: it was an old technology that has suddenly resurfaced as one of the hottest new trends. Yes – 3D is back!

To be honest, 3D movies never really went away, but they never regained the popularity they enjoyed in the 1950s, which with classics like Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dial M for Murder, was arguably the golden era of 3D cinematography. Since then, they have found a niche audience in IMAX theaters and with aficionados of horror and sci-fi movies looking for a few extra thrills.

That all changed earlier this decade, when innovative production technology and a new breed of adventurous Hollywood studios combined to produce a string of critically acclaimed 3D films for kids, most notably The Polar Express and Toy Story. Since then, the 3D format has become a regular staple of the multiplex, and even 3D DVDs are available, packaged with those necessary but still goofy-looking glasses.

At Comic-Con, an entire hall was devoted to showing existing and future 3D movie releases. All the major studios were present, including Disney, which showcased 3D footage for A Christmas Carol, Alice in Wonderland and Tron.

And this time the 3D revolution won’t just be restricted to the movie theater. At a recent Fortune Magazine conference in Pasadena, CA, Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of the DreamWorks studio, told the audience that companies like LG and Panasonic are ready to ship “millions of monitors” that will display 3D video. These TVs could show up in living rooms as early as next Spring. After that will come screens that won’t require glasses.

“It’s like the move from black and white to color,” said Katzenberg. “It will move to every device we have.” He noted that the key to 3D without glasses is just processing power, a challenge that Intel and the other chip makers are well on their way to solving.              

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