Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why Sony's New 3D Viewer Is Bad for Movies

Movies are an escapist fare. For the relatively cheap cost of a ticket they allow a viewer to have a few minutes of reprieve from their life, transporting them into a world full of spectacle and without complications. This fact is well exploited by high-performing blockbusters, which revolve around simple characters, cheap thrills and happy endings. People want escape from the mundane, and Hollywood delivers.

Escapism is at the heart of Sony’s new 3D Viewer. These glasses literally remove any distance between viewer and movie, essentially removing one of the barriers of complete immersion.  That seems to be the goal at least: To give users the feeling of living the movie, surrendering their eyes and ears to it and nothing else. And, on that point, Sony seems to have succeeded. The 3D viewer looks to be an excellent immersion device.

However, in developing this product, Sony seems to have forgotten another staple at the heart of the movie-watching experience: The sense of community. At the heart of the movie watching experience is the fact that you are sharing this world with others. It’s what makes watching movies in the theater such a dynamic experience, you feel the energy in the crowd around you, respond to their laughs or gasps. Humans are communal by nature—look at the huge success of Facebook as proof—we want to share our experiences with others, for others to feel as we feel. And this is where the Sony 3D Viewer falls flat. In its effort to tackle the 3D problem and create an immersive movie-viewing experience, Sony forgot about the human need for connection. Instead of an immersion product, they’ve created an isolation product.

With this product there is no invite your friends over to share the latest comedy, or curl up on the couch with a loved one and watch a romance. These experiences are essential to the sense of escapism that movies provide. But, in their place, Sony gives us cold, apathetic isolation—essentially stripping away a cornerstone of movie history and development. Stripped of shared emotion, which provides connection and context, the viewer will only be left as a recipient of media flow.
Call me old-fashioned, na├»ve, or just shortsighted, but this product has no place in the way I watch and interact with movies. I prefer the thrill of the theater, or—barring that—the experience of sitting on a couch with friends, sharing a new movie and the emotions it elicits.

A caveat: One thing I do think this product would be good for is videogames, which often focus on immersing a single player into a fantastical world. For these, which do not as much rely on shared experience, the Sony 3D Viewer would be perfect.

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