Q&A: Which is the Best 3D Format?

So which 3D format is the brightest or the best? I decided to ask a couple 3D experts and 3D filmmakers:

Jon M. Chu, director of Step Up 3D, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and the upcoming G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation:

Real D was always my preferred projection system. I think the glasses are low profile so it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing a robot on your face and because we shot with passive glasses it felt more like the movie we intended to make.  There was something about not having a flashing, stuttering presence in your line of vision that helped relax my eyes and my brain a lot more than the active systems.  I also liked having a SILVER SCREEN because it helped retain the brightness that we set in the DI.  We even did one of the BIGGEST 3D Real D projections at our premiere for Never Say Never at the Nokia Live theater where we had a huge screen (70 feet diagonal silver screen I think?)  and over 4,300 people watching in 3D!!!  Pretty awesome and every seat looked great.  Trust me, I sat in every seat to make sure and we blocked off the ones that were too much at an angle.

Todd Strauss-Schulson, director of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas:

Here are my thoughts, from my limited knowledge. The real deciding factors are glasses vs ghosting. you gotta pick the lesser of two evils. Dolby has very little ghosting, however uses reuseable glasses which means they are collected after the screening and then steamed to disinfect. Every once in a while you’ll go to a theater and get soggy wet glasses… pretty gross, and if you’re like me and only think about catching PINK EYE whenever you put on a pair of 3d glasses the dampness is unsettling… infection LOVES DAMPNESS! Real D is more wide spread which is why we mastered to that on HK3D. With Real D the glasses feel less cumbersome but do have more ghosting then Dolby. As far as the neurotic pink eye quotient goes, Real D glasses are collected then melted down to make new glasses at the factory, so breath a sigh of sweet germless relief! XpanD has great cancellation (low ghosting) but the glasses are active. Active glasses have batteries in them which can tend to make them heavy and uncomfortable. All I know is XpanD is big in the Euro market, and Europeans appear to have less cases of conjunctivitis than Americans… so… there that is.

Todd Farmer, writer of My Bloody Valentine 3D and Drive Angry:

RealD seems to give a broader 3D experience with a wider visual dynamic range, while the colors of Dolby feel truer and generally more lush but the 3D isn’t as extreme.   XpanD often feels like the worst of RealD and Dolby.

Jason Fairley, the Stereoscopic Supervisor on Happy Feet Two:

Anything with two projectors is likely to be brighter than one.  I would guess that digital IMAX is generally the brightest, but results can vary from cinema to cinema so that’s a gross simplification.  A really powerful single projector and high gain screen can look great.  Because of this it’s hard to claim any one system is the ‘best’, they all have their pros and cons.  I’ve found traditional IMAX is more prone to ghosting (aka cross talk) than RealD, while Dolby 3D has a different kind of ghosting which is less noticeable but there’s a chance the colours are minutely shifted.  XPAND has heavier glasses which can be uncomfortable… it gets a bit arbitrary and personal quite fast.  Most post-production studios will have more than one system in-house depending on whether they’ve installed a silver screen or not.


So which 3D format is the best? There isn’t a clear cut answer, and like most choices in life — it’s mostly subjective.

I personally don’t like the bulkiness of the XpanD glasses, as they don’t fit well over my own glasses. And as I mentioned earlier, I once had the batteries in the XpanD glasses run out while in a movie theater. In a perfect world, the batteries should be fully charged and the glasses should be perfectly cleaned/sanitized in between screenings — but we don’t live in a perfect world. My battery incident happened at the Hollywood Arclight, which is considered the pinnacle of movie theaters in the United States. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

I tend to prefer the 3D I’ve seen with RealD. I also appreciate the fact that theaters offer new RealD 3D glasses for each screening. This means that the glasses don’t feature scratches, blotches or imperfections that I’ve experienced with the competition. The slightest scratch or imperfection can ruin my experience.

Even with that said, the huge IMAX screen have made the 3D experiences for films like Avatar and Tron: Legacy unmatched and completely immersive. I just don’t think the 3D wow factor that the huge screen provides is right for all 3D movies.

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