Viewers’ Perception of Stereoscopic 3D Cinema

By Zororo Mubaya, MSc Digital Media student at the University of Salford

S3D has been around for many years since 1890 when the first stereoscopic production was patented involving two films projected side-by-side and viewed on a stereoscope, since then, there has been a slow growth in terms of technology, better understanding among viewers, complexity in production and delivery of S3D films. For this reason it may be argued that the end product tends to be pricey compared to 2D films. A lot of independent filmmakers are involved in producing award winning 2D films and their numbers are increasing at a rate not comparable to S3D films created by big production houses, which may possess all the resources needed to produce a S3D film. Because of the complexity of the process involved in S3D film production, and time and costs involved in delivery of such films to the cinemas, it is interesting to find out what the audience thinks about the S3D experience as opposed to the traditional 2D.

An online survey was carried out to gather viewers’ opinions about S3D cinema experience and 214 people participated of which 84% of them had watched a S3D film. The participants’ backgrounds and professions ranged from finance professionals, acousticians, civil engineers and filmmakers amongst others, 78% of them were males and the majority was between 21-29 years of age. Europe had the highest number of participants (65%). When participants were asked about how often they are going to the cinema, 54% of the participants responded “once a month” with only 2% “more than once a week”.

From the S3D films that have been milestones (Fig 1) in the last 10 years, Avatar has been the most watched by 34% of the participants; Hugo comes second at 16%. Although other S3D films and conversions from 2D to S3D were released between the three years period between Avatar and Hugo, these two remain the major milestones in S3D filmmaking. Some critiques have admitted that Hugo has finally made 3D worth it, rather than another S3D film to make more money.

Figure 1: The number of 3D movies watched in 5 years

The cost of watching a film in 3D at the cinema was mentioned by a number of participants. More than 10 participants expressed concerns with regards to the price of these films.

“The cost, when 3D films first came to the cinema you paid an extra 3-4 pounds and got the glasses for free. As time went on, you pay more to watch the film and then they sting you on the glasses as well. I am against profiteering in any form.” “I don’t feel it adds that much in the experience to justify the increased price.”

Whereas some participants do not consider price an issue:

“It’s the best format (so far) for films, and I’ll always choose it if given the choice, even when it costs a little more.”

Nevertheless, the majority of participants in this survey spoke favourably about their S3D experiences. Over 50% of the responses indicate that S3D gave people a better visual experience, while 50% of them felt that 3D offered them a more immersive experience and 40% thought that it was more engaging and enhanced the viewing experience especially when the S3D film included action scenes (Fig. 2):

“Given the choice, I only tend to choose 3D when there is something about the film that can really be enhanced by 3D i.e. action, explosions, good or graphics. If it was a simple comedy or romantic comedy, I would choose 2D.”

Even with the issue of discomfort posed by the use of glasses, the experience of S3D for most of the respondents prevails:

“Stereoscopic 3D is normal vision. Flat 2D is an abstraction. Therefore 3D permits involvement with the story without the distraction of having to visually interpolate natural vision. There are many, many other reasons as well, including the impression of immersion, which also helps the storyline. In general, it is a much more enjoyable experience.”

Figure 2: Description of 3D Viewing Experience

However, some concerns were also raised on how uncomfortable having to wear the polarised glasses for viewing S3D could be. More than 20 participants articulated that they struggle with the distraction of glasses and some times they have to constantly take them off and back on again. This often results in headaches and on extreme cases, nausea. A couple of participants with bad eyesight and one with Amblyopia (Lazy Eye) said the use of glasses would never work particularly for them and any other individuals with the same condition therefore S3D is not appropriate for them. Some argued that immersiveness could be brought out in a film without the need for flashy special effects or ‘cosmetic’ tricks:

“…it turns film-watching into a ‘theme ride’ activity rather than enjoying the art.”

And so far S3D drawbacks:

“outweigh the moment when the spear, the fist, the hammer, the snake, the gun barrel, the fruit and the wood plank lunge at me for a cheap thrill.”

Some participants commented that the conversion of 2D films to S3D is cheating the viewers in the sense that S3D film’s storyline is normally written with visual effects to increase depth in mind, therefore 2D conversions to S3D priced the same with an original S3D seem like ripping off the viewers:

“Most 3D films have it applied afterwards (not shot in 3D) so I don’t see the point in paying extra for the gimmick”.

To add on to this, some non-supporters of S3D commented that more effort is put on the technical part of the production rather than the plot of the story, which makes the storyline of most of these films shallow.

Although respondents cited some disadvantages of S3D (Table 1), 62% of them would choose to watch a S3D film to a traditional 2D. This may mean that, although S3D viewing may have its flaws, it is still being favoured compared to 2D viewing.

Also, despite the fact that 3D television sets may still be costly compared to an ordinary set, 56% of participants would buy one and anticipate that if the S3D viewing experience moved into homes, it may reduce the cost of cinema tickets. 19% replied that they already own a 3D TV set and have a better understanding of the technology behind S3D:

“I own two, 3D televisions, 1 passive polarized and another active shutter, both are nice but I prefer the passive polarized.”

However most of the 44% who would not buy a 3D TV set think that it is too expensive and the technology is unnecessary and it has been described as a technological gimmick to maximise the profit of some companies.

Table 1: Choice between watching a 2D or S3D and preference of TV set

This survey analysed the opinions of 214 people with regards to S3D film watching experience. From the results of this survey the majority of participants agree that S3D viewing supersedes 2D viewing. However, in order to improve this experience even further to remedy the issues caused by uncomfortable glasses, cost or the issue of the picture being ‘too dark’, and to make the technology more inclusive (for people with eyesight problems) more research and development need to be done in this area. This entails technological companies and research institutions to come up with advanced solutions to facilitate the process of capturing, editing and delivery of S3D films, as well as to improve the viewing experience. One may argue that if there is a faster, easier way of producing a fairly good product, the cost could be reduced greatly.

This research is not comprehensive, but it offers an insight into the viewers’ perception of S3D films and consequently brings up some issues that need to be considered and addressed in further research.

Zororo Mubaya, MSc Digital Media student at the University of Salford, Video Audio and Social Technologies pathway.

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