IMAX Leaving 3D Behind in Favor of Virtual Reality

As IMAX theaters drop 3D technology in favor of 2D and virtual reality, the future of 3D in the consumer or commercial industries remains cloudy.

Jordan O'Brian Leave a Comment
IMAX Leaving 3D Behind in Favor of Virtual Reality

IMAX may have previously built an empire on 3D media entertainment, but it seems the company is pulling back on its commitment to the format. Following disappointing Q2 earnings, IMAX CEO Greg Foster stated the company will cut back on its 3D showings in order to entice film buffs back to its screens.

While 3D helped the box office reach new heights, with the world’s highest grossing film having achieved much of its returns through 3D showings, it appears consumers are not as interested in the format as they were several years ago. In 2016, there were more 3D releases than ever before – although revenues for the format still dropped 8% to $1.6 billion. That’s a small slice of the $38.6 billion total box office takings in 2016.

The writing has been on the wall for the format for quite some time. TV manufacturers were among the first to ditch it, with most flagship TVs now shipping without any 3D support. That’s because manufacturers are moving to other formats, including HDR and 4K – both of which users seem to enjoy more than donning a pair of glasses.

IMAX’s lack of such releases includes blockbuster films such as Dunkirk and Blade-Runner 2049. Those films will be released exclusively in 2D at IMAX theaters, with Blade-Runner 2049 available in other cinemas in 3D; while Dunkirk leans on its 70mm screenings to maximize revenue.

The Move to Virtual Reality

Given IMAX’s recent investment in virtual reality, the company is clearly wanting to move to the future, rather than dwell on obsolete formats. Consumers have already showcased their preference for 2D showings, and now the company will want to concentrate its efforts on getting them to pay for VR experiences – which are far more immersive. IMAX has already opened its first virtual reality facility, and it plans to roll-out to even more in the coming future.

So, what’s the future for 3D? Well, it could gain a resurgence if only it ditched the glasses. Many cinemagoers describe the plastic glasses as the worst part of watching a 3D film, so in order to get film buffs to back the format, they would need to go.

James Cameron has already stated that the follow-up to the massively popular 3D blockbuster, Avatar 2, will hopefully come in glasses-free 3D, potentially setting the industry up for a new popular format. The technology will likely need to catch up, however, as the only commercial use of glasses-free 3D so far has been on the Nintendo 3DS. In that scenario, users had to be looking at the screen from a particular angle to enjoy the full effect. Avatar 2 is scheduled for release in 2020, giving projector manufacturers and cinemas just three years to perfect and implement the technology.

originally published Aug. 2, 2017

This story originally debuted on our sister publication, CI Europe.