Will Strauss looks at whether the recent reincarnation of stereoscopic 3D is simply a case of the emperor's new clothes.

Trying to isolate trends and themes at an exhibition or conference can be pretty hard. But it's what we journalist do. We just love putting things in boxes, metaphorically speaking.

From what I can work out, the most popular phrase heard at NAB 2008 - after ‘data management crisis', ‘open architecture issues' and ‘my feet hurt' - was ‘3D is just a gimmick.'

But is it?

3D is popular again as advances in digital acquisition and post-production technology are now offering better control over the precise alignment of the left and right images that make up a stereoscopic 3D picture.

Filming in 3D requires a special two camera rig and generates a large amount of data. But, according to perceived wisdom, is not that difficult. And now that post tools can handle and show stereo 3D we're in business. But there are still some cynics. I think they're wrong. Here's some evidence.

Since Quantel came out with a new set of fancy toys for post producing 3D content in 2007 there has certainly been a buzz. Since then 17 brand-new Pablo machines or the Stereoscopic 3D upgrades for Pablo have been purchased by post and DI houses.

And many other manufacturers have followed suit. In a piece in Broadcast this week Adrian Pennington points to further developments from Avid, Digital Vision and Autodesk.

White elephant stall?

But is it just the post production technology manufacturers trying to dupe us all into spending more money on new kit? I don't think so.

I wondered how many stands at NAB featured some sort of 3D stereo technology. I couldn't count them myself. Luckily, a blogger, in their wisdom, has very kindly provided me with an answer.

At least 20 exhibitors were showing 3D content of some kind. Here they are:

  • TDVision Systems (Booth: C9042) with a 3D Blu-ray

  • P+S Technik GmbH (Booth: C10319A) with Alain Derobe's 3D rig

  • MikroM (Booth: C10919D)

  • American Paper Optics, Inc. (Booth: C11225) with all sorts of 3D glasses

  • NHK Media Technology (formerly known as NTS) (Booth: C12105) with a 3DTV demo

  • PACE (Booth: N112DMR) with 3D camera, at the very least

  • Quantel (Booth: SL720) with Pablo 3D

  • The Foundry (Booth: SL2624) with 3D plugins for Nuke

  • Red Digital Cinema (Booth: SL3820) Likely to show 3D with Assimilate Scratch

  • Vizrt (Booth: SL4805, R129) Realtime 3D on WOWvx screens

  • Christie Digital Systems (Booth: SL6113) 3D projectors

  • T-Works (Booth: SL6530) Silver screens

  • Fraunhofer IIS (Booth: SL7424) 3D reconstruction from 2D

  • Silicon Imaging Inc. (Booth: SL10608) Stereoscopic rig.

  • IRIDAS (Booth: SL10708) stereoscopic edit system

  • HD Solutions (Booth: SL11017) stereoscopic edit system

  • NVIDIA (Booth: SL13913) 3D driver

  • FOR-A (Booth: SU5220) real time 3D mixers

  • Iconix Video (Booth: SU6426) stereoscopic rig

  • NTT (Booth: SU10220) Another 3DTV demo

Here are three more reasons why stereo 3D is not a gimmick

  1. 3D stereoscopic content for the home is close.

  2. There are already TV sets being made that can show 3D.

  3. London facilities are investing in 3D post kit

Still not convinced? How about this? James Cameron's next movie will be in 3D.

Maybe you want a less Hollywood outlook. Would you believe a techy?

Well, at the NAB Digital Cinema Summit Disney's vice president of production technology Howard Lukk said that he believes 3D is not a fad- even if he does worry about the lack of available kit. “There are CG and live-action (features) coming,” he told delegates. “It would be good to see a better supply of camera rigs and stereoscopic postproduction tools.”

I may not really understand it. And I may never see a 3D film or TV show. But, while it sounds like some sort of terrible 1950s flashback, stereo 3D is not going away anytime soon.

What do you think about stereo 3D? Is it a gimmick? Have your say below.