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The 3-D Post

February 7, 2009

I’m a little behind on this, but I’ve been wanting to write about 3-D, and an NBC ad during the Superbowl got me to thinking about it.  Watch:

1-D?  1-D!?

Guh. Where to start.

Lots of kids, when they come into the planetarium, will ask me if it’s 3-D.  I say, “Yes, but not like you’re thinking.”  (An equal number ask where they pick up their glasses—their 3-D glasses.)

Because most planetaria’s screens are projection domes, the images that are shown on them are always 3-D.  Instead of a flat image being projected on a flat screen, you have a flat image being projected on a rounded screen, so indeed, some parts of the image are physically closer to you and some parts are physically farther from you.

That is real, actual, three-dimensions—height, width, and depth.  But as I said, not how people usually think of it.

When you’re watching TV, the images are 2-D—height and width.  Always.  It may look like someone is walking away from you (getting smaller on the screen) or walking behind something (disappearing), but it’s all an optical illusion.  TV and film images are 2-D.

But ignoring that, the Chuck promo is still wrong, because when they’re flat, they’re ostensibly two-dimensional (height and width), NOT one-dimensional.  In actuality, they’re still being presented as three-dimensional, because when they turn to the side, you can still see them.  If they were truly two-dimensional, they’d have no depth, and disappear from the side—but I digress.

When people say 3-D, typically they’re thinking of “stuff protruding out at you.”  Horror movies tried to capitalize on this, naturally, with a modicum of success depending on how high your cheese-squelch is set.

(By the way, the Chuck show that was 3-D was not protrusion, it was layering—the illusion of depth within the TV—so you had what looked like people standing in front of things.  Neat, but gimmicky.  I did read that the ratings were up, so maybe it worked.)

Now here’s where I get nitpicky.  What we call 3-D entertainment, and really any kind of entertainment that is “3-D” (and I’m including things like stage theatre here) is not actually done in three dimensions!

It’s four dimensions!  Time is a dimension!  Height, width, depth, and length, if you will.

Is time standing still when you watch it?  Probably not—I guess it could be said that still images are lengthless, but that’s a different argument.

So I maintain that we’re missing a dimension.  What people commonly refer to as 2-D should actually 3-D, and 3-D should actually be 4-D.

Regardless, the promotions people that had a hand in that Chuck spot should have known better—the show’s target audience is nerds (IG-88 anyone?), yours truly included, so they should have thought twice.

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