Virtual Space - The Movies Of The Future
The use of head-mounted displays with head-tracking and computer control of the image to show movies and video games with an all-round view.
by Bob Yarwood
This essay has been written to publicise the idea of having movies and video games (and eventually television programmes) which are watched with a head-mounted display helmet and computer control of the images presented to it, so that instead of having a picture projected onto a screen, viewers would appear to be inside the scene with the action going on all round them. As far as they could see and hear, they would be in an entirely different place - that is, wherever the camera was which shot the scene. They would be able to turn right round, and look up, and the scene would be all round them and above them. They would not be able to see or hear anything of their real surroundings, although they could still feel the chair they were sitting in.
Before I go into the details of the system I will introduce myself and give some details of my background. I am British, 79, and for most of my career I was a Chartered Engineer working in the oil industry. I specialised in the design, installation and testing of control systems for oil refining and chemical processing, and worked on many contracts in the Middle East and Far East. Other jobs were doing research into computerised medical x-rays, and working on Blue Streak the British space rocket. My academic qualifications are a B.Sc.(Hons) in Physics and an M.Sc. in Control Systems Theory. Both these subjects are general, in the sense that Physics is the basis of all the natural sciences and control systems appear in many branches of engineering - mechanical, electrical, electronic, optical and aerodynamic. This background has given me a basic understanding and "feel" for what is possible now in science and technology, and what will be possible in the near future.
I think this would be a major revolution in the movie industry, similar in many ways to the introduction of sound movies (talkies) in the 1920s. It would also revolutionize video games, because instead of watching characters on a screen, viewers would be able to take part in the game in person, actually going into the dungeon or wherever, choosing where they want to go, and having the animated characters all round them. The technology exists right now to make a good start on this, but so far no-one has taken the idea seriously. To me, it would be the obvious next step in movies and video games - in fact it would be what these have been evolving into since they were invented.
I have provisionally used the term "Virtual Space" for this technology, because I think it best describes the fact that you can be in two spaces at once. Your body can be in real space, but your eyes and ears, and more importantly your mind, can be in another space altogether - a fictional or 'virtual' space. I like to think of the head-mounted display (HMD) as a magic helmet which instantly transports the wearer to another place. Anyone who has seen (and understood) the movies "The Matrix" or "Avatar" will see at once what I mean. I don't think there is any chance that things will ever be like they are in The Matrix, but it does show the basic idea. Some people have suggested the term "virtual reality" for this, but I think that phrase has already been taken to mean many things to do with computer graphics, and "virtual space" would be more specific.
I have not put any pictures in this essay, because it is about a new way of making and viewing pictures. Any pictures I put in would only be the kind we have always had, on a page or screen, which everyone knows already, so there would be no point in doing so. If this makes the essay dull, I can only hope that people will use their imagination to see the new method as it will be one day, hopefully! In any case, if and when the method is perfected, it would not be like viewing pictures at all - it would be like going somewhere in person. Later in the essay I do mention a way in which we can can get an idea of what it would be like.
Leaving the technicalities aside for the moment, I think you can see that this would be an awesome experience. Sitting at home in your living-room, you would put on the helmet and immediately be in another place. We get most of our information about the world through our eyes and ears, so that if your eyes and ears tell you that you are standing on top of Mount Everest, or deep underwater, or floating in space outside the International Space Station, or sitting behind the driver in a Formula 1 motor race, it would be very convincing and you would really feel that you were there (although of course you would know that you really weren't!). As I watched the opening of the London Olympics on television, with all that magnificent display, I was frustrated by the limited view of the television camera and screen. With just one virtual-space (VS) camera set up in the middle of the field, everyone on Earth with access to the right equipment could have been right there with an all-round view exactly as if they were there in person. A year ago, the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton was shown on television. If VS movies and television had been developed in time, we could all have been at the wedding ceremony, with a front-row seat.
As we often watch movies in company with friends or relatives, two or more people could watch a VS movie together. There could be voice communication between the helmets, so that the viewers could talk to each other and discuss the action. Everyone would be watching the same scene, but not necessarily looking in the same direction at the same time. In computer games, two or more people would even be able to play in the same game, with each person seeing the others as animated characters - "avatars" as I believe the term is
The components of the VS system are a helmet with a screen inside and earphones for the sound, some means of detecting the movement of the wearer's head, and a computer which adjusts the scene shown on the screen to correspond with it. This is called "head tracking". The viewer thus gets the impression that he is inside the scene, with the action going on all round him, and gets a very powerful sense of "being there" in person. The view in every direction must be available in the computer so that it can select the right view to correspond with the direction the viewer is facing. For filmed movies this means that the camera must have an all-round view - 360 degrees in the horizontal plane and 180 degrees in the vertical. For animated movies and computer games there would be no need for a camera as the whole scene would be written in the software. For maximum realism, the optics in the helmet should be designed to give the same field of view as the human eye - approximately 180 degrees. The best way of viewing would be from a swivel chair so that the viewer could turn right round easily.
For filmed movies, there would have to be big changes in the methods of filming, at least for dramas. There could only be one camera in each scene, because if there were more than one, they could see each other. Likewise, the director and crew would have to be concealed from sight - probably in another place altogether, watching the scene through their own HMDs. The viewers would be in effect invisible observers standing among or near the characters. Filming documentaries would be easier because there would be no reason why the viewers could not see the camera crew and equipment - it would be as if they had gone along with the crew when the filming was done.
For animated movies, the big difference would be that the viewer could choose where he wanted to go in the scene (within limits), instead of being tied to wherever the camera had been placed. Some kind of joystick would be provided to indicate where he wanted to go.
The first VS movies would probably be documentaries made specially to demonstrate the possibilities of the method, like the early Cinemascope and IMAX movies. At first, even to mount a VS camera on top of a truck and drive through some attractive mountain scenery would produce a movie which would be an exciting novelty. The viewers would feel that they were right there on the truck, and there could be a guide and commentator talking to camera in the normal way. Each viewer would feel that he alone was there and that the commentator was talking to him, but of course the conversation would have to be one-sided!
As for what subjects would be covered in VS movies, they would be exactly the same subjects as we see now in ordinary movies, but they will acquire a new interest as audiences experience the personal involvement, the sense that they are going to these places in person instead of looking at a picture made by someone else. Anywhere on Earth, in fact anywhere in the Solar System where a VS camera could be taken, anyone with the right equipment could be there in person. And they would have none of the difficulties that they would have if they were there in reality. Sitting in your living room, safe and warm, you could be climbing up Everest or a vertical rockface with no danger, wing-walking on an aircraft doing aerobatics, swimming underwater with no breathing difficulties, standing in the middle of a forest fire, or skiing down a slope with an avalanche chasing you, and perhaps being caught by it and being buried in the snow. You could be floating in space outside the space station with no space suit. Using something like the Google Earth software you could fly to any place on Earth, across the actual landscape, with Superman. With animated movies we could walk through ancient buildings, or cities, that have disappeared long ago, or new ones that have yet to be built, provided that we have the drawings or sufficient other information about them. Everyone could be a Doctor Who, travelling through space and time to fantastic worlds.
One example of this could be the Crystal Palace in London, at the Great Exhibition of 1851. The building was destroyed by fire but the original drawings and details of the exhibits are available, so that we could walk through the building in company with crowds of Victorian characters which had been programmed in using the latest virtual reality software. We see reconstructions like this all the time in present-day films and TV, but they are just pictures on a screen and don't give the feeling of actually being there.
A more ambitious project, which I will certainly not live to see, would be to have the viewers go on the voyage of the Titanic. Because of the massive amount of research that has been done on the Titanic, all the details of the ship's construction, furnishings and decorations are known, also everything that happened the night of the sinking. Viewers could have their own cabin, and go anywhere they liked on the ship just as the real passengers did. The other passengers could be animated characters, which are now becoming very lifelike, as was shown in the movie "Beowulf". Viewers could sit in one of the boats and watch the ship sinking, or perhaps even be floating in the water waiting to be rescued but with no danger of dying of hypothermia!
A more realistic use of VS could have been at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. All over the world, millions of people would have been able to see the Games, not on a little screen but as though they were there in person. There could have been VS cameras set up at various places so that viewers could choose where they wanted to go and which events they wanted to watch, while sitting warm and comfortable at home.
Just recently the film "Gravity" was released. As I watched it I thought what a waste - all that money spent producing a film which we have to watch on a stupid screen, when we could have been up there with them!
And of course, the same would apply to football matches!
As the Space Age dawns, anywhere a space probe, manned or unmanned, can go with a VS camera, we can all go. We could have been travelling around Mars right now on the Mars rovers "Spirit" and "Opportunity". We could have travelled on the Voyager probes right across the Solar System, visiting all the planets and their moons in turn, and now we could be speeding right out of the Solar System into interstellar space. In years to come we can stand on Titan and see Saturn's rings filling the sky. We could even go where real astronauts cannot go, like the surface of Venus or Mercury, or deep into Jupiter's atmosphere - or of course the deepest ocean depths on Earth. It is unfortunately true that the vast majority of the human race will never get into space, but this is a way for us all to do just that. I think NASA would appreciate that way of interesting and involving the public in the exploration of space!
In July 2012 NASA published a composite panoramic view of Mars which it said was "the next best thing to being there". Anyone who has read this far will know that isn't true. The next best thing to "being there" is Virtual Space!
(It has long been a belief of mine that human beings, or even unmanned probes, will never travel beyond the solar system. The distance to even the nearest star is so unimaginably vast that it would not be possible even in theory for any spacecraft to travel to it in less than a thousand years our time, even if the problem of having enough fuel to make the trip could be solved.This assumes that Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity still holds, and it should be remembered that the theory is now 114 years old and has not been improved upon yet. I find it amusing that there are so many books and television documentaries made about the existence of life somewhere in the universe, while carefully avoiding any discussion about the realistic chances of detecting it and communicating with it. I suppose it would not do to say to the public "Yes there is life somewhere in the universe, but no we will never be able to find it and communicate with it, so you can forget about it!" I am sure that the only way in which we can ever travel round the universe will be by VS as I am describing it here.).
Looking further out into space, using what is known of stellar positions and distances, combined with animation, we could be like gods, zipping across the Solar System or the Galaxy faster than light, and even move out of the galactic plane altogether and see the Milky Way as it is - a spiral galaxy. We could then nip over to the next galaxy, Andromeda, (a journey that would take light 2 million years) and be back in time for lunch! It would be a similar idea to Google Earth and Google Mars, but more like "Google Universe". We could all be spectators at the Big Bang and the creation of the Universe. In the television series Stargate we could all go zooming through the wormholes to anywhere in the universe.
In the movie "Avatar" we could have been inside that amazing world, riding on the dragon birds ourselves. We could have been sitting in the great hall in Hogwarts, with the spirits zooming about over our heads, or flying on broomsticks between the towers of the building. In the film "The Hobbit", we could go right along with Bilbo Baggins on his epic quest. And of course we could all be literally "walking with dinosaurs", and even riding on them.
We see these things like this all the time on TV of course, but they are all just pictures on a screen - you don't get any feeling that you are actually there yourself.
There will be other uses for VS techniques. Architects could walk their clients, room by room and floor by floor, through buildings which exist only as drawings in computer memory, so that they can see exactly what they would see if they were in the finished building (including the view from each window). The clients could suggest changes to the design, like moving a window or a doorway, and those changes could appear immediately around them as if by magic. The same would apply to interior design - furniture, decorations and color schemes could appear and be changed instantly, so that the client could see exactly what it would be like to live with different styles. Likewise they could drive round a proposed building complex such such as a civic center or sports stadium.
People who have booked to go on a cruise on one of the modern liners, which are like floating cities, could be sent a disk so that they could "board" the ship a week before it sails and get used to finding their way around. They could go anywhere they liked, as often as they liked, so that when they boarded in reality they would already be familiar with the layout.
When there is a return to the Moon and a permanent base is established, as will certainly happen some time, with VS cameras set up in different places we can all visit the base and look around, watching the station personnel working.
People interested in astronomy could have their own virtual planetarium showing the night sky, sitting in their living room at any time of the day or night, with perfect seeing conditions and no clouds or artificial lights to obscure the view. The constellations could be marked for the benefit of those who are just learning to find their way around the night sky. Instead of the present-day security cameras there could be VS types, set up so that anyone could quickly visit the site, no matter how far away it was, and take a look around. (Such cameras would be easier to maintain because they need have no moving parts). The same kind of cameras could be set up at popular tourist places like Niagara Falls, or inside famous buildings like the Palace of Versailles or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul so that anyone could visit them in an instant and look around.
VS could be used to help people overcome phobias such as fear of heights or flying. They could be, virtually, in a plane or on a high building so that they could get used to being in a situation which looked stressful, while sitting in comfort at home. Incidentally, I think the most scary film for those suffering from claustrophobia must be "The Abyss". I felt uncomfortable just watching it on ordinary TV!
Anyone, including people who are bed-ridden or house-bound, could go a theatre, concert, football match or any other live performance with a seat in the front row, go deep-sea diving, or just go walking round outside. With miniature VS cameras we could appear to be inside somewhere which would normally be too small. We might even be travelling inside the human body, as in the movie "Fantastic Voyage". And we could go inside an ants' nest and see the nest as the ants do. With remote-operated vehicles such as the ROVs used in deep-sea exploration or the military drones used in Afghanistan it would obviously be better if the operator was, virtually speaking, on board the vehicle.
VS might start a completely new industry - the virtual travel industry. At present there are many people who would like to travel to other countries but are prevented from doing so by ill-health or old age. I am getting to that point myself - I have always wanted to go to Rio De Janiero but it looks as though I am never going to make it. A small crew of technicians with a presenter could go to another country just like they do now but with a portable VS camera, and travel round filming. When the film is played back it can be shown to any number of people who will feel that they had been there themselves. In some ways it would be even better than going in person, because in a lot of foreign holidays there is a good deal of fuss and inconvenience in a long, tiring and expensive flight, getting to the hotel, finding how to get around, being pestered by beggars and salesmen, and suffering from the heat, smells and flies. With a virtual holiday you would simply be whisked from one interesting place to the next. Although it would not be exactly the same as going to these places in person, after a year or so your memories of the trip would be the same as if you had gone yourself.
If we were going to Egypt for example, we could wander round the Pyramids and then straight over to the Valley of the Kings, then to the temple at Karnak, and finally to Abu Simbel, with proper guides, all in the space of a few hours, while sitting in comfort at home. Even better, using CGI we could go round these places not as they are now but as they were thousands of years ago, according to the best archaeological knowledge. There would be whole cities with buildings like temples, tombs and roads which have now completely disappeared to the eye but can be detected by archaeology using the new scans from satellites in orbit. And, as with all animated scenes, we could go where we liked instead of having to follow a set route.
The greatest difference that VS movies would make is in dramas. The viewer would be an invisible observer standing in the middle of the action. It would probably take some getting used to, but people would eventually realise that it is more like real life. There are some scenes in a film of "Scrooge" (1951, with Alastair Sim and George Cole) where Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past are looking at scenes from Scrooge's past. They are standing in the middle of the scenes but the other characters can't see or hear them:
There are similar scenes in another version of the film:
A Christmas Carol 1984
In VS movies, the viewer would be in the same position as Scrooge in these two scenes, except that he would not have a companion. (Well actually he could have a companion, but it would have to be an invisible one that he could talk to through the helmet-to-helmet communication that I mentioned earlier).
Horror films could be made so that the viewer is the main character. It would be extremely scary, because the viewer would feel personally involved and that he was in danger, with something creeping up behind him. Imagine crawling through the ventilation ducts in Alien, with that monster perhaps just around the next corner! In films with great panoramas, like "Zulu", imagine standing on that plain, with no-one in sight, but an ominous chanting and rattling of spears coming from just over the hill!
I often imagine and visualise this for myself, having a VS set and being inside these scenes
To see whether all this could be done with today's technology, we need only consider what we can already do. We can send a robot to Mars and have it travel around taking photographs and doing chemical testing of the soil. We have commercial airliners with hundreds of passengers doing landings in thick fog entirely under the control of a computer. We have aircraft like the B2 bomber or the Typhoon Eurofighter which are aerodynamically unstable and the pilot needs computer assistance to control the aircraft. We are beginning to see robots that move uncannily like human beings. Just recently I saw a television documentary about a car with radar and a computer that can drive itself along a public highway and through a town with no help from the driver. Compared with these, VS movies and video games as I have described them would not be difficult to develop.
My final reason for thinking that it would work is that I have already seen a working model. It was in a seaside amusement arcade several years ago. I stepped onto a platform, put on a helmet, and immediately I was in a different place. It was the most ridiculously simple static scene you could imagine, just a boxing ring with the ropes and corner posts, and that was all. The rest of the hall was, conveniently, too dark to see the audience! When I turned round, sure enough the ropes and corner posts were all round me. Unfortunately, when I moved there was a noticeable time lag before the scene changed, which did not help the realism. Still, it showed the idea could work, and it was a fascinating novelty for me. On my next visit I tried to find out where it came from but it had disappeared and I didn't think to follow it up at the time. I have heard of similar exhibits somewhere in Florida, but I don't know the details.
From what I know of what is happening in science and technology, I see no reason why a VS system could not be put together right now, as all the component parts are already in existence. It would probably be quite small-scale at first and would be improved and extended in time, just as ordinary movies went from silent to talkies and from black and white to color. VS movies would almost certainly be for home viewing only, as there would be no point in going to a movie theater. You would buy or rent some kind of disc or memory stick and play it in a special-purpose player - or perhaps your ordinary home computer could do the job. The motion detectors would be inside the helmet, and in fact this has already been done at least once. Here is a reference I have found:
"Sega announced the Sega VR add-on in 1991. It was based on an IDEO virtual reality headset
with LCD screens in the visor and stereo headphones. Inertial sensors in the headset allowed
the system to track and react to the movements of the user's head."
And that was 20 years ago! The biggest problem will be in the design of the optics inside the helmet. I envisage a solid state screen of some kind, either LCD or plasma, curved into a hemispherical shape so as to fill the viewer's field of view. This should not be a big problem, as we already have screens of this type in curved form. Here is an example:
New Sony Technology
but the screen will be very near to the eyes. To avoid eyestrain there will need to be a diverging lens system so that the image appears to be far away. This is standard practice with optical instruments, but they only have a very small field of view. How it would work with a hemispherical screen I don't know, and I think this would be the really tricky part of the design. Still, I am only a physicist and not an optical systems designer, so I will have to leave that to others more qualified than myself. The task would be made easier by computer-aided design techniques, where the computer does all the complicated calculations and leaves the designer free to imagine new ways of doing things. Perhaps the viewer's eyeballs will need to be scanned, as already happens with some military pilots.
As a first step, we could use something like the video glasses which are becoming available. These are worn like spectacles but instead of lenses there are two very small screens. The viewer gets what looks to him like a large movie screen which moves with the head and can be watched in a very small space. They are mainly for use with personal media players like iPod which have very small screens and are hardly suitable for watching full-length movies (although the new tablet computers are providing bigger screens). They will be ideal for watching movies in a seat in a car or plane, and I think the airlines will one day supply them to their passengers for watching in-flight movies. Everyone would get a perfect view, and no-one would be able to walk in front of the screen! Some of the manufacturers are Myvu, eDimensional, Zetronics and Vuzix, and all can be found with Google. A particularly interesting one is Sensics : http://www.sensics.com There are many clips showing the glasses on YouTube, under the names of the manufacturers.
While these glasses are a long way from the Virtual Space helmets as I have described them, they are nevertheless an important step in the right direction and may well be used in the first-generation VS sets. The picture fed to the glasses would come from the computer according to the position of the viewer's head, so that the viewer would get an all-round view as he moved his head around. This means that an entire VS system could be put together right now, with components that are already in existence. Every feature I have mentioned would be there except for the wide field of view. In time, after more research and development, the screen would get bigger and would show more of the all-round view at the same time. I think this is about as far as I shall ever see the VS system developed.
To simplify the system even more, it could be used initially for animated movies and computer games only. This would avoid the need for a camera as the whole scene could be written in the software. Then as the system became more popular, work could be started on the design of a VS camera. I know there have been many novel types of camera designed for the space probes. One type might take a thin vertical slice of the view at a time, and revolve at high speed so as to get an all-round view.
Some kind of compound eyes, which insects have, could be investigated. There are interesting Wikipedia articles on the subject, and on holography and phased array optics.
A simple arrangement, which could make a demonstration at an exhibition, would be to have a chair which could be turned round, with a TV screen fixed to it. The picture shown on the screen would come from a camera somewhere else - perhaps on the roof of the building. As the chair turned, the camera would be turned the same amount and direction. Someone sitting in the chair and turning it would get an all-round view on the screen looking from where the camera was. At least it would show that you can get an all-round view without having an all-round screen!
So why hasn't it happened yet - and more importantly, why has there not been a single mention of it in any book or magazine article that I have read? Well, I don't know, and it's a huge mystery to me. It's as though I was the only person on Earth who can see the Moon! But history tells us that things do not always happen at the logical time. Consider the introduction of sound movies in 1928, which incidentally has many parallels to the introduction of VS movies now. In 1920, radio broadcasting was started. Does that mean that after radio broadcasting started, another 8 years of research and development were needed for sound movies to become a reality? No, certainly not! Radio broadcasting was much more complex and sophisticated than sound movies. Because a modulated carrier system had to be used, they needed sophisticated theory, antennas and high-frequency circuits. Sound movies needed much less sophisticated equipment, and could have been developed before sound broadcasting.
Going further back in time, the steam engine was invented 2000 years ago by Hero of Alexandria - and completely ignored and forgotten for 1800 years - I hope it's not going to take that long for VS movies to be developed. Just think where we could have been now if the steam engine had caught on then. We would probably have colonies all over the Solar System!
One reason for the delay in developing sound movies might have been that the biggest and most successful companies in the movie business just did not want them. They were doing well as things were, and saw no reason to risk investing in a radically new technology with all the difficulties and problems that they would have. Some of these difficulties were shown in a comic way in the movie "Singing In The Rain". In the film, there was considerable resistance by some studios to having sound movies. It might not have worked commercially, and even if it did, the same companies might not have been the most successful in the new medium. Besides, there were many movies which had been completed but not shown to the public yet, and they would have had to be scrapped without ever being shown. I think something like that is happening now with VS movies. People in the movie business just don't want such a radically new technology when they are doing so well as things are.
Actually I have found one mention of the idea, in my favourite science fiction novel "Eon" by Greg Bear. The heroine is exploring a city that had been built by incredibly advanced aliens a long time ago but is now deserted. She finds a building which is apparently some kind of library but with no visible records, and learns how to work some of the controls. This is a short passage from the book:
"She called up a guide to the city, and in an instant a scene in the city surrounded her. She appeared to be standing on the portico of an apartment in the lower floors of one of the tower blocks, looking down on the busy streets. The illusion was perfect - she could turn her head and look completely behind her if she wished - indeed, she could even move around, even though she knew she was sitting down. In both her ears - or somewhere in the middle of her head - a voice explained what she was seeing."
It will be a long time before we can beam sound and images straight into someone's brain, but otherwise it is an excellent description of what I have called Virtual Space. Incidentally, what I like about "Eon" is that it is the best example I know of "hard" science fiction. Everything is presented as real science, although centuries advanced from what we have today, and with no element of magic or fantasy. With one woman, a genius-level theoretical physicist, as the central character, it has a breathtaking range in time and space. Although some aspects of it are a bit dated now, I can recommend it to anyone who wants to know what first-class science fiction is all about. Much as I enjoyed the Star Trek series, conceptually "Eon" is in a different league. Details of the story are given in Wikipedia. I would love to see it made into a film, whether VS or just an ordinary film, but I don't suppose it will happen. Well, I digress from my subject, so I will get back to it now!
I want to emphasise that I consider VS movies an entirely natural and obvious development of present technology, and one day we will look back and be amazed that it took so long for the idea to be accepted. When the idea becomes widely known and people realise what they could be enjoying, I am sure that someone somewhere will make the decision to invest in the technology. Whether I will live to see it is another matter!
There are websites on the Internet which show researchers working on what could be parts of a VS system, although they obviously are not intended as such. They are all about one person tinkering with bits of equipment in a laboratory. What would be needed to get a VS system up and running would be a proper team of a dozen or so experienced design engineers and technicians in a well-equipped workshop. There would be specialists in optical systems design, control systems, and software engineering. There are already such teams in the aerospace industry working on flight simulators, so we are not talking about science fiction!
Whenever I watch a movie on television I feel that I am peering into another world through a silly little window. It is as though someone had invited me to a party, but when I got there I had to stand outside and just look in through the window! I always want to get through the window and be inside that world. If VS movies ever happen, I and millions of other people will be able to do just that.
Finally, I am going to take the opportunity to mention something that is becoming very popular in films - 3D. First of all, as a physicist I am aware that in normal life 3D, or stereoscopic vision as it is more properly called, depends on the separation between the eyes, which is only about 2 1/2 inches. The depth perception which this affords only works on objects fairly close to the head - about arm's length in fact. 3D thus has very little importance in everyday life, and is useful only for tasks which take place close to the head such as threading a needle. In the UK you can even pass the standard driving test with only one good eye! It follows that in movies, 3D must be classed as special effects which will work in animated films and computer games but not in films which purport to show real life. I have seen one 3D movie, The Hobbit, and it proved that everything I have said is true. I hardly noticed the 3D effect and I soon forgot all about it. I am at a loss to understand why the phrase 3D has become so popular when it means so little. It is just a catchword used to impress the the public.
Before laser rangefinders were invented there used to be an optical rangefinder. This consisted of two periscopes connected in line, and in effect it increased the distance between the eyes to a metre or so. I remember using one in the school cadets - you saw a scale going off into the distance and you could see exactly how far away things were.
There have been reports that prolonged viewing of 3D by children can harm their visual development. This is an article I have found on the subject:
WARNING: 3D Video Hazardous to Your Health
As for whether VS movies will one day be made in 3D, I suppose that is conceivable, but I think VS movies will be difficult enough to design at first without introducing another complication. For the foreseeable future, VS movies will have nothing to do with 3D.
Last update Sept 22nd 2014