3D sure "feels" dead. When I finished writing this article, I logged into Adobe Stock to search for "3D TV" and what few results I got were of TV that had thick plastic bezels and small screens by today's standards. It's remarkable to see how far TVs have come since 3D was popular, but stock art showing stuff popping out of TVs while glasses-wearing families stare in amazement is as rare as finding a TV that supports 3D.
But here's the thing, you may think that the format is dead, but it isn't. This is probably the case because theatrical releases continue to be produced in 3D. That is why right now you can pick up a copy of the new Dune in 3D Blu-ray. That's not a dead format!
TVs may have given up on 3D, but it continues to be a staple of home theater, projector makers have not stopped including the capability. And you can pick up a 3D capable player for under a hundred bucks, so the barrier for entry is rather low. The only problem is that nobody makes a 3D-compatible TV anymore. And this is a shame because TVs have finally evolved into what they really need to be to deliver a sublime 3D viewing experience. 120 Hz panels, extremely high brightness, high contrast, this is all wish list stuff.
Now, I don't expect a return to passive 3D because that requires adding a layer to the actual panel. But I don't understand why active 3D is not at least an option, the LCD shutter glasses that make it work are already out there and affordable and actually pretty much ubiquitous. And as far as I know, not much is required to get them to work with the display, synchronization through Bluetooth is the standard for DLP link glasses that are the most common form of 3D glasses in the world the projectors.
While fans of 3D movies are perhaps a niche, collections of 3D movies are out there and I would guess that any one TV maker that was brave enough to put out a quality set that supports 3D would garner the upgrade dollars of many fans of the format. Maybe just presented as a limited-edition, maybe just in one size (I recommend 85 inches). Or hey, maybe sure, do a passive 3D special edition, that's the dream, right? A 4K TV rendering passive full HD 3D? Lightweight glasses, but only charging, all that? I'm just letting my imagination run wild.
But, what about video games? Let's revisit with 3D could be like now that we have PlayStation five and Xbox series X. It strikes me as being a lot like VR, people dismiss it because the technology to deliver the true experience that becomes transcendental is lagging behind the hype. But now the technology is actually there, 3D could live up to its hype, and VR will live up to its hype, and actually, we need to remember that VR is 3D and that you can render a portal view of VR in 3D on a flat-panel screen.
I don't know if this is making sense to you, or if it's coming across as crazy talk, but that's the feeling I have, that there is a hidden opportunity for whichever TV maker is bold enough to seize upon this opportunity and point out that not only is 3D not actually dead, but the time has finally come where TVs can do it justice, as opposed to just dedicated home theaters and commercial cinemas.
What can you do if you want a TV-like viewing experience that supports 3D? Fortunately, a new crop of 4K ultra-short throw projectors have emerged as a way to put a really big screen into the living room, and some of these projectors also support 3D.
With UST projection, the projectors sit underneath the screen, just inches away from the wall, and it projects upward onto a specialized ultra-short-throw ambient light rejecting screen. These screens are designed to aggressively reject ambient light that comes from the sides and above (which is oftentimes a white ceiling) while reflecting light that comes from the projector below towards the viewer. The result is an improvement in perceived contrast that allows these projectors to operate in environments with some ambient light without totally washing out.
In order to properly enjoy 3D movies, you are going to shut off the lights and try to create a home theater-like environment. But the cool thing is that these UST projectors are fairly bright because they are designed to work in mixed lighting, not just a dark room as would be the case with a dedicated home theater projector. This gives the new USTs the extra horsepower needed to create 3D images that don't have the dimness viewers had come to associate with the format in the past. Not as bright as 3D would be on a current-generation UHD TV, but still superior to what people who experienced it some years ago might think is normal for the format.
Remember the original Avatar? It remains the most successful movie of all time. It single-handedly created a renaissance for 3D and prompted all the major TV makers to add 3D to their TVs.
The first sequel to Avatar has been delayed numerous times, Which may have led to this sense that it'll never arrive. But, it is slated for release on December 16th of this year, And, three additional sequels are scheduled to premiere in December of 2024, 2026, and 2028.
I can't actually predict the future, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the 3D in these Avatar sequels will be state-of-the-art and that it will be the preferred way to experience the film. We're talking about the champion of the state-of-the-art cinema, James Cameron!
Will three Avatar sequels be able to achieve what the original did, and force TV makers to acknowledge the allure of 3D? I hope so because as part of the process of reviewing UST projectors, I have watched some 3D movies like Black Panther, Dredd, and Sin City: A Dame to Die For. 3D movies look better than ever at home, on a big screen. Done right, 3D is as far from a gimmick as you can get, it lets you see details and textures that cannot be rendered in 2D.
Perhaps everything I'm discussing here is simply wishful thinking. But, the marketing for Avatar has not really kicked in yet. And sure, it may well be that the way people experience 3D going forward is through VR headsets, and nobody is going to bother with the "glasses and a screen" way of viewing it, except maybe for diehard home theater enthusiasts? That could happen, sure. I'm certain that's what James Cameron would ultimately prefer. But to me, it's just all the more reason why some TV maker should seriously consider giving fans of 3D a TV to upgrade to.
The current best "bang for the buck" UST projector that supports 3D is the 2500-lumen BenQ V7050i ($3299). It is a tremendous UST projector for non-3D as well, but I can personally vouch that it offers flawless 3D playback as well.