3D Television

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House of Wax.

3-D television has had a long history starting from the roots of the 3-D craze in the 19th century and its reemergence today.



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Stereograph of US Patent Building c. 1890.

Invented in 1838 by Charles Wheatstone, the stereoscope provides viewers with a still 3-D image. Two images are designed side-by-side separated by the same distance as the eyes to form a stereograph. This stereograph is then placed inside a stereoscope with magnifying lenses about two and a half inches apart. The stereoscope “employed prismatic lenses that enlarge and shift paired pictorial images to aid their fusion” (Holbrook). An article from 1859, describes “a stereoscope is an instrument which makes surfaces look solid” (Stereoscope). The stereoscope marks the beginning of 3-D imaging. 3-D television follows long after.


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1950s 3-D Novelties.

The 1950s served as a period of great interest in 3-D material. The View-Master is a good example of this phenomenon. The film industry started to feel a decline during the 1950s as the result of the introduction of television. Therefore, the industry looked to bring the audience back through a new medium, the 3-D movie. Arch Obler’s Bwana Devil was known as “The First Feature Length Motion Picture in 3-Dimension Natural Vision.” There were 46 3-D films produced between 1952 and 1955. But the poor quality of the movies turned off the audience and by 1956 the 3-D movie craze was over (Speer).



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Anaglyph 3-D Glasses.

Anaglyph images are made up of two color coded images. Each image is designated for either the right eye which is usually green/blue or the left eye which is red. The two images form one 3-D image when viewed through special anaglyph glasses. The Dimension 3 Company employs cyan/red as they believe that this combination produces the least amount of blur or ghost images (Dimension 3). These blurred images are a constant problem with 3-D imaging. The proper colors must be identified in order to make the images clear.

Spatial Vision

Spatial Vision was developed by experiments by German astronomer Carl Pulfrich in 1922. Pulfrich discovered that “the rods of the eye – the receptors that work in dim light- take longer to perceive light than do the eye’s cones, which work in brighter light. Using special glasses that have one clear lens and one lens dark enough that only rod-sensitive light will pass through, the two eyes will see the same object a split-second apart. The brain will perceive that object to be closer than stationary one” (Taub). Spatial Vision requires the movement of an image back and forth in order to produce a 3-D image. Either the camera or the viewer has to be constantly moving. The viewer must wear glasses with one clear lens and one dark lens. However, unlike anaglyph, the image remains clear 2-D without the glasses. Anaglyph images when viewed without glasses appear blurry with colored outlines surrounding each image.

Recent 3-D TV

1980s to Today

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Image from Spin City 3-D Episode.

The first 3-D TV broadcast was on December 19, 1980. It was a 1953 3D feature film, Miss Sadie Thompson, along with a comedy short starring the Three Stooges also from 1953. SelecTV, a pay TV channel from Los Angeles aired the shows. In 1997, ABC worked with the Dimension 3 Company to produce nine of its shows in 3-D, Family Matters, Coach, The Drew Carey Show, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Step By Step, Home Improvement, Ellen, Spin City, and America’s Funniest Home Videos (Dimension). However, these shows were not entirely shot in 3-D. They usually had segments at the end or beginning of the program in 3-D. Home Improvement shot the “Tool Time” segment of their show in 3-D. NBC also worked with D3 to produce 15 minutes of a dream segment for their program 3rd Rock From the Sun. The problem that faced these programs was that two different types of glasses were on the market. ABC was using anaglyph glasses which they attached to Wendy’s Hamburgers and NBC was using the Pulfrich method and attached their glasses to Barq’s Root Beer and Little Caesar’s Pizza. The public was confused by which pair to wear for each program which led to some disgruntled consumers.

Literally today, October 31, 2007, ABC’s Regis and Kelly broadcasted their Halloween show in anaglyph 3-D using glasses distributed through Walgreens. This link leads you to a video from their site [[1]]


In the early 1980s, Dr. Edwin Jones, specialist in optics, Dr. LeConte Cathey, specialist in electronics, and Dr. Porter McLaurin, specialist in media production created a 3-D process that does not involved special glasses or viewing equipment. Visual Image Depth Enhancement Process (VISIDEP) “produces images which have realistic depth and fullness, rather than exaggerated images which seem to leap outward” (Dead). The creators came up with this process after studying how visually impaired people perceive depth. VISIDEP basically follows the process of a one-eyed person by processing images presented at different angles at a rapid speed in order to produce a 3-D image. It was believed that VISIDEP would most immediately be used to televise sporting events and commercials. VISIDEP did not take off as a result of lack of interest and investors. The process did not impress enough people to be used as a marketing tool.

Future of 3-D TV

A new technology is expected to hit the market in as little as three years. This 3-D television will not require special glasses. Rather, the television itself will produce the 3-D image. A recent article in the Guardian describes “the technology works by throwing a different image to each eye and angling them so that one eye picks up one and the other picks up the other (Clapperton). Eight different images are used in an effort to reduce nausea and dizziness which were reported during the early stages of the technology. These complaints have followed 3-D television from the beginning as the eye is too strained in previous uses. Two 3-D films are supposed to be released in 2009, one by Steven Spielberg and one by James Cameron. However, a lot more content will be necessary in order to spur the purchase of these seemingly expensive devices. Orange, the early leader of this market, claims that 3-D television will become the primary television within ten years replacing conventional television. The television is predicted to cost about 20% more than a High Definition TV today.


Clapperton, Guy. "Technology: Inside IT: You won't believe your eyes when 3D TV becomes reality: Perfect 3D television and movies without those horrible glasses? They're closer than you think. " The Guardian [London (UK)] 19 Jul 2007,6. National Newspapers (27). ProQuest. NYU. 31 Oct. 2007 <http://www.proquest.com/>

Davis, Stuart. "In Stereo." Eye Level. 2007. Smithsonian American Art Museum. 29 Oct. 2007 <www.eyelevel.si.edu/2005/11/in_stereo.html>.

"Dimension 3." D3. 2007. Natural Vision Corporation. 27 Oct. 2007 <http://www.d3.com>.

"GV Films starts production of 3D TV serial Paramapadam. " Businessline 1 Sep. 2005: 1. ABI/INFORM Trade & Industry. ProQuest. NYU. 30 Oct. 2007 <http://www.proquest.com/>

Hawkins, Richard C. "Perspective on "3-D"" The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television 7 (1953): 325-334. JStor. NYU. 27 Oct. 2007.

Holbrook, Morris B. "Stereographic Visual Displays and the Three-Dimensional Communication of Findings in Marketing Research." Journal of Marketing Research 34 (1997): 526-536. JStor. NYU. 23 Oct. 2007.

Jennings, Tom, comp. The Dead Media Project. 17 Oct. 2007 <http://www.deadmedia.org>.

Speer, Lance. "Before Holography: a Call for Visual Literacy." Holography as an Art Medium: Special Double Issue 22 (1989): 299-306. JStor. NYU. 26 Oct. 2007.

Taub, Eric A. "Still Thinking Outside the Box :A New Technique Jettisons the Silly Glasses, But Even So, Will 3-D TV Ever Catch On? Still Thinking Outside the Box. " New York Times (1857-Current file) [New York, N.Y.] 18 Jul 2002,G1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2004). ProQuest. NYU. 31 Oct. 2007 <http://www.proquest.com/>

"The Stereoscope. " Circular (1851-1870) [Brooklyn] 16 Jun 1859,84. APS Online. ProQuest. NYU. 31 Oct. 2007 <http://www.proquest.com/>

William, Paul. "The Aesthetics of Emergence." Film History. Indiana UP, 1993. 26 Oct. 2007 <JStor>.