My UEA colleague Dr. Keith Johnston posted this piece on his blog just before Christmas, The past, present and future of 3-D?. This post is a summary of some of Keith’s points, and then a discussion of my own about classification. In his post, Keith acknowledges the scepticism expressed by some commentators regarding the actual merits and/or chances of success of the current iteration of 3D cinema and television. A key point is that of the nature of the present media and computer industries:

In the 1950s, 3-D was designed to compete with other screen technologies: in 2010, computing, the Internet, home video and television are lined up to support corporate Hollywood. The Nintendo 3DS offers 3D without glasses; Internet sites are experimenting with anaglyph and sequential field videos; 3-D Blu-Ray releases are growing; while Sky’s 3-D television service promises to introduce 6 hours of unique 3-D content a week for British audiences.

Now this is an interesting issue, and one that will be intriguing to watch as things develop. It’s not that any particular party is going to disregard all other considerations in favour of promoting 3D, but it does give a good shot at success. We saw a few nudges in this direction during the Blu-ray/HD-DVD struggle, although for 3D the differences are more between media than within a single format. But as Keith also points out, it’s helpful to revisit the history of 3D and various attempts at it, even if current conditions might be different in some respects.

One thing that interests me regarding 3D is the recent announcements by the BBFC regarding classification of 2D/3D versions. (Not least because it indicates how common it is to produce in both formats). Following the existing practice where a classification is for a work in a given format, 2D and 3D videos (i.e. DVD/Blu-ray/etc) are classified separately. The 2010 announcement was that if an item is classified in 3D, the 2D cert can be issued at a lower cost, for the same classification. But this isn’t available the other way around, as there is (according to the BBFC, and with good reason) the potential that a full viewing in 3D format of the same underlying content could end up with a higher classification. But note too that, for these purposes, 3D anaglyphic (old-style 3D) is treated like 2D, with the ‘new’ 3D being the focus. A similar scheme in respect of cinema was also announced, just before Christmas. It’s a version of a procedure already used for changes of aspect ratio, checking master versions, and so on, and in practice means that the word is checked as being the same, but not examined in the usual way.

To explain what this means: imagine a film, The Big Blue Ocean, is first submitted in 3D Blu-ray format, and gets a classification of 15. The distributor can then apply at a lower cost than usual to get a 15 cert for the same film in standard DVD/Blu-ray format. But if they think that they could get a 12 for it in 2D, then they can still apply separately – for example, if the big dramatic shark scene would be considered to ‘dwell on detail’ of moderate violence (which you can’t do at 12) in 3D only. If they apply for the 2D version first, then they have to apply separately for 3D, no matter what the cert or what cert they want.

I don’t know of many situations where the 3D and 2D certificates have differed, although the BBFC does frequently say on its parent-focused site that “3D versions may be unsuitable for younger or more sensitive children” or some other form of words. One example is Spiderman 2, which had different 2D (PG) and 3D (12A) certs (and completes a nice circle given the overlap or link between the earlier Spider-Man and the introduction of 12A). But I can contemplate a number of situations where the classifications may diverge in other cases, particularly as more 3D discs come on the market. (Not that I’ll be watching them, being a member of club astigmatism whose brain hasn’t quite figured out how to make it work comfortably). I wonder how issues of this nature (setting aside the much more prominent distinction between cinema and video) have been dealt with at earlier stages of technological development.

Edit: if I had seen it in time (or in the right dimension), I would have illustrated this post with this image.