Thursday, April 15, 2010

3D Technology: new format can benefit nature conservation

Sometimes the technologies developed for our own entertainment or amusement can also have additional benefits as well. As an example, computers have taken game simulator technology to a level that benefits science (NASA simulators) and the military (pilotless drones). And in the 1950's, a crazy movie experience came and went, with red and blue glasses that made monsters or native spears fly out of the movie screen at us.

Yes, the early days of 3D or "stereoscopy" was an interesting fad - and now, thanks to the success of movies live-action films like Avatar and many animation films like Up, it is back and could very well be here to stay.

I just returned from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual convention and trade show, held in Las Vegas. This is a BIG show, covering every aspect of broadcast technology, from cameras and support gear to broadcast production and distribution equipment. And this year, 3D was the hot item, with televisions, cameras, and all the toys for launching 3D-dedicated channels. Networks were lining up with Discovery, ESPN and DirectTV all dedicating future channels to this new viewing format.

But the underlining question was: Where is the content? And, secondly, what does this have to do with a nature & conservation blog?

Well, for one: nature documentaries, properly shot using the latest in 3D technology, can be absolutely stunning. The ability to enrich the viewer's experience can add immeasurably to the
power of the message. The ability of 3D to draw you in, with that sense of "you are there," can help communicate to the viewer - whether or not they are a nature lover - the importance of ecosystems, be they on land or under the sea.

Now, this has been done successfully in movie theaters and large format venues like IMAX. But the new technologies are now focusing on the small screen: television. And this avenue has the means to make 3D ubiquitous and the next wave of technology that will simply become part of our everyday lives. That can empower conservation groups and filmmakers with the ability to provide content which can be more impactful, more meaningful to the average audience.

Scientific research can also benefit from 3D technology. 3D can provide details and subtleties to images from faraway Mars to the bottom of the sea that no 2D or conventional image could provide - particularly in situations where a manned presence would be prohibitive. At the NAB show, I attended one presentation on advanced scientific imagery and learned that many respected scientific organizations are now fully committed to 3D technology - regular 2D video is becoming yesterday's news.

But as with many steps forward, there will be a transition, not a simple "out with the old, in with the new." Many don't remember, it took more than a few years for color television - something we take for granted - to be adopted both by the industry and by the viewers themselves. There are plenty of challenges that must be dealt with - from optimal viewing (3D TVs without glasses are being developed) to replacing or modifying existing viewing platforms (TVs) to the quantity and quality of programming.

So, no one is suggesting you throw out that new high definition flat screen you just bought. But for those of us who work so hard at getting people to appreciate the magnificence of our natural resources - from the beauty of an Amazon forest, to the delicate explosion in color and variety of a coral reef, to the warm interplay between a family of threatened wolf cubs - there is another communication tool that is on the horizon for our disposal.

1 comment:

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