Editorial: Seeing is believing

Notice something odd about my mugshot? Look closely and you'll see my chief designer turned it into a 3D image.

If you happen to have a pair of those 3D anaglyph glasses (that's the ones with red and blue filters), you can now get the full horror effect of your editor-in-chief.

I grew up with mono 3D so I'm still impressed with these colour ones. But now, 3D TVs - without glasses - are already on sale. Read all about their future on page 20.

However, the future is dependent on content. My mugshot won't have anyone hunting around for the anaglyph glasses, but it'd be worth it to check out the 3D pictures of diatoms and dust mites that we featured in a 3D special of our teen magazine 'Flipside'.

3D has been tried on consumers so many times. My parents have an antique stereoscope, all the rage in the 19th century, and they have some great images to go with it - seeing Queen Victoria's golden jubilee procession in 3D is like seeing the Second World War in colour film - unexpected, and makes the event seem so much closer.

Technologies for 3D movies were patented soon after the 2D version but it wasn't until at least half a century later, in the 1950s, that they became popular. The film that kicked off this fad was 'House of Wax', one of a series that made Vincent Price the king of 3D as well as horror. Strangely, director André de Toth was blind in one eye and so never got the effect. 

Some of these 50s films are minor classics. Most have heard of 'Dial M for Murder' or 'The Creature from the Black Lagoon'. But others, like 'Catwomen of the Moon' or 'The French Line' starring Jane Russell (which promised to 'knock both of your eyes out!') are not so classic.

It was a brief fad rather than a technological revolution, but the content was more to blame than the technology.

These films used the superior polarized light technique, more like that used in today's Imax 3D cinemas. It was only when they were re-released in the 1970s that they were changed to anaglyph. This backwards step in technology led a whole generation - myself included - to assume that's how they were released.

Today, it's still unclear what makes the best content for 3D. At Futuroscope in France, there are 3D screens that surround you, cinemas that shake you, and loads more wacky ideas. The content, however, just illustrates the technology.

London's Imax cinemas in Waterloo and the Science Museum are now showing some great, albeit wisely quite short, documentaries. Animation also lends itself very well to 3D because you can control the effects so closely.

Music is the latest genre to get the 3D treatment. 'U2 3D' is now on release, with satellites downloading the digital film to cinemas. The reviews tend to say that, after the novelty has worn off, it's really only for U2 fans. Little surprise there.

Wildlife documentaries might work well in 3D TV. But, let's face it, most programmes wouldn't. I remember the 'Radio Times' giving away 3D glasses in the 1980s to view old films being shown during the day. My grandfather mistakenly thought it was for all programmes. 'Panorama' wasn't much good in 3D, he told us. And I think we can all do without a 3D Jeremy Paxman.

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