3D – the Next Dimension

Current stereoscopic displays are only the first step into true 3D viewing, we look at the future of 3D


What's one better than 3D - 4D of course. You may well have seen 4D, and even 5D, attractions advertised and wondered what the extra dimensions consisted of. We were curious too, and so headed off to Madame Tussauds in London for Marvel Super Heroes 4D. The Marvel area is currently the highlight of the attraction as a whole. The early sections get you in the mood, with a SHIELD-styled base (the organisation takes a starring role in the upcoming Avengers movie) including a huge, life-size model of the Hulk.

At the end of the base you move into a cinema auditorium in what used to the Planetarium. Here massive comfy seats are tilted slightly back to direct your attention to the main screen high up on the curving wall in front of you. The experience lasts just nine minutes, with our 3D-animated superheroes (including Spider-Man, Wolverine and Iron Man) saving London from Doctor Doom. But they sure pack a lot of action and technology into that run time.

The main screen is of course running in 3D, using two 17,000 lumen projectors to create a 4K resolution image. In addition there are five more 9,300 lumen projectors producing additional effects to cover the entire the domed ceiling. A typical home or office projector runs at around 2,000 lumens for comparison. Running all these projectors, all day, every day means the bulbs need replacing every 3-4 months - and protective clothing has to be worn just in case they implode while being swapped out.

3D – the Next Dimension

Our Spidey-sense was left tingling after a visit to Marvel Super Heroes 4D

The additional dimension is provided by a range of fairground style effects. These include air blasts, water spray and seat rumblers plus various mechanical pokes and tickles of which we'll leave the details a surprise. All of these are used sparingly, making them more effective when they are first deployed. The movie's plot is cleverly contrived too, literally bringing the action into the auditorium by the end. It's all a great finale to a classic London attraction.

Kraftwerk, the German company that built Marvel 4D has also been responsible for around 50 similar attractions around the world. Going beyond 4D, you can have 5D rides that add an interactive element - such as shooting bad guys with provided laser guns - and 6D where the whole viewing platform lifts and spins. The company recently built a 5D cinema at a waterpark, where you wear your swimwear for the ride, allowing the creators to use a lot more water than would otherwise be possible.


One of the key ways in which we experience 3D is by moving our point of view. For example, as we walk down a street we see first one side of a building, then it face on, then the other side. This combination of occlusion (where an object block your site of those behind it) and perspective is key to our understanding of depth. However, it's something that current 3D displays are unable to deliver, until now.

NICT and JVC recently demonstrated a 200in back-projected screen that provides a glasses-free 3D effect that recreates both occlusion and perspective - along with the usual stereoscopic depth effect. The display uses 57 projectors to produce a Full HD moving image that can be viewed from one of 57 angles, allowing you to peer behind objects by moving your head left or right.

3D – the Next Dimension

The viewing angle is only 13 degrees, though, and the content has to computer generated at present as there's no practical way to capture video from 57 HD camcorders simultaneously when there has to be just 20mm between each lens.

To create the image, the 57 projectors have all been tuned to produce the same brightness and colour balance. A condenser lens (that concentrates the light, just like in a microscope) takes the output from all the projectors and arranges it so that the correct image is projected to the correct point in the viewing room. A diffusing film then helps blend the separate images together for smoother transitions from one to the next.

The technology looks very impressive, and to get a real idea of it working you should watch the video at http://youtu.be/NiaInndP1S0. It's more suited to art installations or display advertising than movie watching - as you don't tend to move much once you've sat in your seat to watch a film - but it's still an exciting development.

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