What’s so special about 3D?

3D is all the rage these days. From blockbuster movies to game consoles and TV sets, two dimensions don’t seem to be sufficient any more. Of course, three dimensions are better than two. We humans – as well as many other animals – have evolved our visual depth perception for a reason, after all; Knowing how far away an obstacle is helps us avoid it and improves our chances of survival, whether we are threshing through the forest or crossing the road in the concrete jungle.

In some cases, adding depth to a video or a visual display can really enhance its content. But the recent explosion of 3D diplays seems in most cases to be more about showcasing the latest technology than about actually enhancing the content. A case in point would be the U2 3D movie we are currently screening at the Science Centre; I wanted to watch it because I was curious why one would choose to produce a concert movie in 3D, and I’m still curious. I enjoyed the music, but the occasional microphone stand sticking out of the screen did not make my viewing experience any more immersive than it would have been in 2D.

Mars Landscape anaglyph image
Anaglyph image of Arsa Mons, © Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt

There are very powerful applications of 3D displays, though. For example, images of planetary landscapes are often difficult to interpret in two dimensions, because they lack the depth cues our brains usually make use of to make sense of a scene – perspective, occlusions etc. Here, as illustrated in our upcoming ‘A new perspective on Mars’ exhibition, 3D imagery makes a world of a difference. These are low-tech anaglyph images, but the effect is striking. If you have a pair of those red-and-blue glasses, you can check out some sample images here.

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