3D movies have recently seen a resurgence in the movie theater. Due to new 3D theater technologies, several 3D version of movies have hit the theaters and a few of those have made it to home theater formats in both standard DVD and Blu-ray.
3D movies have been around in theaters since the early 1950s when they were very popular. Many of these movies used a stereoscopic anaglyph image, which requires two cameras separated by a few feet to run simultaneously. Colors are added to each image and then they are superimposed. To view the 3D effects with anaglyphic images, you must wear special glasses with different colored lenses. The left lens separates the part of the images filmed by the left camera and the right separates out the images filmed by the right camera. Your eyes combine the images, which creates a depth of field and the 3D effect.
Newer movie theater technologies use dual projectors and polarized images that you view using glasses with polarized lenses. Each polarized image can only be seen properly through the corresponding polarized lens. This avoids the color overlays used in anaglyphic image technology and the colors are therefore more realistic and accurate. Linearly polarized 3D movies have been around since the 1930s when the technology first emerged.
Disney and a company called Real D have pioneered the use of circular polarized 3D projection technology that has greatly improved the 3D viewing experience. Circular polarization alternately displays left-eye and right-eye images, which are filtered through special polarized glasses. Recent 3D versions of films such as Chicken Little, the Nightmare Before Christmas, Meet the Robinsons, Hanna Montana’s Concert Tour and Journey to the Center of the Earth were all filmed and shown using this technology.
What about home theater 3D movies?
There is good news and bad news. The good news is that a few recent 3D theater hits have been reproduced in 3D for both standard DVD and Blu-ray. The bad news is that polarized technologies require expensive dual digital projectors that are not practical for home use. You cannot simply display polarized images on an HDTV. That means that the 3D movies available for home theater use do not use the same imaging technology and you cannot use the gray polarized glasses that you might have kept after viewing one of the current 3D flicks at the theater. Sorry, no can do.
All of the most current 3D movies on DVD and Blu-ray use anaglyph technology, which requires that you wear glasses with different colored lenses. When you buy a 3D movie, you generally get 4 sets of cardboard-framed anaglyph glasses.
There have been improvements made to anaglyph technology and the screen colors are generally very accurate. The 3D effects are not as dramatic as with the Real D polarized technology, but it is still pretty good. If you have a choice, buy the Blu-ray version of a 3D movie. The extra sharpness offered by Blu-ray improves the quality of the 3D effect. A lot of people are disappointed with the 3D effects when using a non-HD TV and a standard DVD format. If the image is not sharp enough, it is difficult to see the full 3D effect.
The current 3D movies available on DVD and Blu-ray include Journey to the Center of the Earth, Hanna Montana’s Best of Both Worlds Concert, and Polar Express. There was a 3D version of Shrek 3, but I do not think it is available and was only produced using a standard DVD format. You might, however, find a copy on eBay.
The HQFS 3D alternative
There is also a wide range of older movies available using a technique called HQFS (high quality field sequential). Many of the old 3D movies from the 1950s are available on standard DVD using this technology approach. Amazon has a nice selection of available HQFS DVDs. With HQFS, movie fans wear special wired electronic shutter glasses that are synchronized to the frames in the video. If you want to experience 3D in your home theater, it looks like you will either have to purchase HQFS glasses (they are not included with most HQFS movies) or wear anaglyph glasses. We have not yet tried any of the HQFS movies, but we are tempted to buy a couple shutter glasses because it looks like there are dozens of older 3D movies available. Most of those movies are pretty cheesy, but make for good entertainment if you are into 3D. It looks like the newest HQFS video available is Spy Kids 3-D Game Over.
I just saw a long list of 3D movies that Disney is planning to release in the theaters over the next few years. Bolt is just hitting the theaters now. I suspect that Bolt and at least a few others will be released on Blu-ray and DVD.