The Next Dimension: How 3D Has Evolved

It was inevitable that 3D was going to find its way onto mobile phones at some point especially with the flashy visual technology third stepping out of the cinema onto televisions and more recently, games consoles.

Even though 3D technology has been around since the 19th Century, some say it isn’t advanced enough to be used on portable electronic devices yet. However, while 3D itself has certainly had its ups and downs, the fact that it’s still here well over 100 years after its invention suggests that it might be round for quite a while yet. But how it we get where we are now? Well come with us as we partake in a spot of time travel and take a look at how 3D tech has evolved.

Where it all began…

We’re really turning back the clock to begin our journey through 3D time to 1838, when a rather clever fellow called Sir Charles Wheatstone invented the stereoscope. This took two photographs from positions approximately the same distance apart to that of a person’s eyes. The photos produced were then placed side by side. When viewed, the brain combines each of the images into a single three-dimensional one and alas, 3D was born.

Further on down the line another scientist called David Brewster invented the double camera for taking stereoscopic pictures in 1844 and Queen Victoria later posed for a 3D picture in 1851 that became hugely famous he world over.

Even though 3D pictures gave us the first taste of the third dimension, it was the technology’s appropriation by filmakers in the early 1920s that really pushed 3D towards what it would eventually become.

Golden oldies

The idea of 3D cinema first emerged in 1894 when British film pioneer William Friese-Greene filed a patent application for a 3D viewing process which used two screens side by side, united in the viewer’s eye by a stereoscope headset. Nearly 20 years later the first anaglyph film (made up of two colour coded images – red and blue) was produced in 1915, although it wasn’t until 1922 that the first 3D film, The Power Of Love, was shown publicly.

While 3D films continued to be produced throughout World War II, it was the 1950s which saw the so-called “Golden Era” of 3D cinema. Hollywood producers started to push the boat out as a means of getting people away from their television sets and in front of the silver screen. The first feature-length colour 3D film, Bwana Devil, was released in 1952 with House Of Wax and Man In The Dark proving a huge success a year later in 1953.

3D still had its problems though. In the early days, cinemas had to use two projectors to show films as they were shot using two separate 3D cameras to create one image. The result was a wobbly picture that left viewers feeling ill, something that put many off going to watch 3D movies altogether. Although the technology continued to develop throughout the 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1970s that  people started indulging in 3D films again. They had other things to keep them occupied in the meantime though…

Still in motion

Audience reception of 3D films may have gone awry in the mid 1950s but the technology still persisted in other forms. 3D cameras became particularly popular in 1963 when Kodak released the Istamatic, a device that allowed users to take a 3D image of a still object by building up the picture using different angles. The Istamatic proved an affordable option for amateurs looking to get involved with the new method of photography, although the picture quality was far from outstanding.

Nevertheless, 3D photography continued to develop at a steady pace throughout the 60s, and 3D film technology picked up too and evolved into Stereovision, invented by Allan Silliphant and Chris Condon in 1970. This latest 3D method squeezed two images side by side on a single strip of 35mm film, eliminating the need for a second projector in the cinema, using instead just one projector with a special anamorphic lens to widen the picture.

The technology developed further over the next decade and eventually saw classic films such as Jaws and Friday The 13th Part III released in 3D in the 1980s. However, while the anaglyph was good, the colour wasn’t as great – there was clearly still plenty of work to be done to make 3D even better. That didn’t stop IMAX producing 3D documentaries from 1986 though, and the first 3D TV broadcast going ahead on 18 December 1980.

From the silver screen to the TV screen

3D TV programmes never really took off until last year , although American network ABC did have a go in the late 90s when it teamed up with Dimension 3 Company to offer ten of its most popular shows including Ellen and Sabrina The Teenage Witch in 3D. The programmes weren’t shot entirely in 3D though so you could really claim the broadcasts were truly 3D in the way that we’d come to know it.

Fast forward 10 or so years and 3D TV would really come to life following the introduction of the first 3D TVs, launched at CES in 2010, and the launch of Sky 3D in South Korea on 1 January the same year. After a slow start, 3D TVs gradually became more widely available and broadcasters began to offer a wider range of 3D content including live Premier League football and golf coverage. However, there’s still scope to push the tech even further and electronics giant Toshiba has promised the first glasses-free 3D TV by 2012.


Whilst we may have to settle with wearing glasses to enjoy 3D films and TV at the moment, glasses-free 3D is already available in other forms of tech, such the Nintendo 3DS and a couple of smartphones. The recently released LG Optimus 3D is world’s first 3D smartphone and uses the same Stereoscopic technology we mentioned earlier to wow users with impressive graphics, 3D photo-taking capabilities and 3D gaming. You can see what we made of the LG Optimus 3D in our handset review, but more manufacturers are catching onto the third dimensional trend as HTC also announced the EVO 3D.

Back to the future

Now we’re up-to-date, we couldn’t help but wonder how 3D will develop in the years to come. It seems the film industry has it sussed at the moment, with 3D films proving to be hugely successful, mainly thanks to James Cameron’s Avatar bringing back 3D cinema with a bang in 2009. Television still proves a threat to the future of 3D cinema, especially now 3D TVs are available, although the next big move likely to reel even more punters in would be glasses-free 3D screenings.

It certainly hasn’t been an easy ride for 3D over the last 160-odd years it’s been around and the fact that it’s only just proving to be the technology du jour (as far as portable devices go) shows it clearly has a lot of life left in it yet. Who knows what the next 160 years will bring in terms of technology but we’d bet that 3D will form an integral part of whatever lies ahead.

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