The Blu-ray that Made Me Love 3D

The use of 3D was an integral part of the movie’s presentation

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I have to admit, I’ve been less than charitable in the past when writing about 3D displays for the home. I owe 3D an apology, and that’s all due to Life of Pi.

About a year ago a representative for a TV manufacturer called to arrange shipment of a 3DTV review sample. During the conversation, he said something like “I know you hate 3DTV, but I hope you give this one a chance.” Actually, I don’t hate 3D, I’ve just never met any I liked very much. Watching 3D in a big commercial theater can be great, though too often it seems movie studios take 3D shortcuts (such as adding 3D in post-production rather than filming in 3D from the start) or add it as a gimmick and not as part of the total story-telling experience.

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I review a lot of 3D TVs, so of course I have 3D movies around the house. Most of them aren’t particularly good movies, but they make good demo material for testing the systems. Surprisingly, my teenage children don’t even show much interest in 3D. It’s the glasses, the inconvenience… you’ve heard this before.

But this week, while reviewing Epson’s 5020UBe projector, I received the Life of Pi Blu-ray in the mail. I’d pre-ordered it months ago and forgotten when it was due.

First, I need to explain that I already loved this movie. I saw it in a commercial theater when it first came out, but saw it in 2D because I’m cheap and a curmudgeon (my grandfather would call me a stick-in-the-mud). On screen it was gorgeous—the best theater experience I’d seen in a while, and I had no regrets skipping on 3D. I’m also a huge fan of the book, having read it about 4 times.

Fast forward to Tuesday when the disc shows up. That afternoon I tested out a few scenes, in both 2D and 3D for the review, and then watched the entire movie in 3D that evening.

At first I was a little bothered by the Epson glasses—I hate when you can see parts of the glasses in your field of vision (but that’s unavoidable if the company wants to make 3D glasses that will fit over regular glasses). These were not too bulky, so I forgot about them soon enough.

A short time into the movie, I was enthralled. Ang Lee is some kind of magician. The use of 3D was an integral part of the movie’s presentation, but not an ostentatious part. There are moments where objects move forward off the screen, such as some butterflies and the occasional splash of water or bubbles, but most of the benefits of Life of Pi’s 3D was in the depth—and width—that the technology added. The image just seemed bigger (and I was watching on a 120-inch screen to begin with). As the image created more depth, the surround sound complimented the effect with a 360 soundfield that was incredibly immersive. Underwater scenes blew me away. Even more, the moments where the camera was only half submerged created the impression of waves about to splash onto my knees. This was subtle, but cool.

There were times when the effect broke down, particularly in the scene where the sea was filled with flying fish. I think the speed and overwhelming CGI nature of the shot produced more than my brain was ready to handle because a lot of that scene looked like mush. That was rare though.

Now that Life of Pi broke down my anti-3D barrier, I’m ready for when The Hobbit arrives on March 19. I’ve already cleared my calendar.

Here are a couple of 3D at home viewing tips:

• Go big. Watching 3D on a medium-sized TV is underwhelming. Having a 60-inch or bigger TV helps. The ideal display is a 3D projector with a 100-inch+ screen.
• Charge the glasses ahead of time.
• Turn out the lights. 3D depends on losing yourself in the experience, so lights and distractions in the room completely ruin it.
• Choose the right 3D video setting—3D glasses will make the image darker, so make sure your display is properly adjusted to show a slightly brighter than normal image when watching 3D.
• Get surround sound. Done right, a 3D image should be matched with a 3D soundfield.
• Stay centered and upright. Depending on the glasses, the type of 3D technology and the display, the image will break down as you move off axis either horizontally or vertically. 3D generally doesn’t work well if you’re sprawled out on the couch.

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