The Real 3D Battle Will Be Fought On Your Face

For more than a year the 3D movie industry has been ramping up, but there was a broad perception that James Cameron's Avatar could be the make or break movie for the tech. A massive flop might have set 3D adoption back slightly while success could be a shot in the arm for the theatre-only display technology. With Avatar now drawing record box office receipts, 3D is definitely getting a new jolt of energy, and four companies are in position to duke it out for the spoils of a three-dimensional war.

Four companies are in the mix right now: RealD, MasterImage, Dolby and XspanD. (IMAX 3D is a separate system, and while Disney brands films as Disney Digital 3D, those in fact use a variety of the four primary non-IMAX 3D companies.)

No surprise, one of the big questions about 3D adoption comes down to cost. RealD is the current market leader, in part because the company's projectors and glasses are cheapest. Dolby and XspanD both use more expensive hardware, with Dolby's glasses running about $28 each and XspanD sets up to $50. (Incidentally, both companies recommend theatres wash their glasses using industrial dishwashers, which is a little factoid that was new to me. Any employees got good stories they can share in the comments?)

The New York Times runs down the basics of the competition between the four companies, and there is one key observation highlighted that I think is off base. It comes from Joe Miraglia, director of design, construction and facilities for Arclight Cinemas. "I don't think the consumer can tell the difference," he says.

Based on reactions to Avatar alone, that isn't the case. Consumers can obviously tell the difference between RealD and IMAX 3D, for example, but based on a lot of conversations and message board reading, among frequent moviegoers there is at least the perception that one system is better than others. That may not actually be the case, as the belief could be due to factors beyond the individual specs of each system. But the perception of difference can be enough, if it gets to the point where a broad audience cares to favor one system over another. Admittedly, that isn't likely to happen.

What's your experience? Have you seen Avatar or other 3D projections via multiple systems? I'm more curious about your perceptions and experience with non-IMAX tech, but I'll take comparative comments including that, too.