Although I wouldn’t describe myself as an early adopter, I’m usually a little bit ahead of the curve, technologically speaking. Over the past 20 years, I’ve plunked down more dollars than I’d care to count in my endless pursuit of audio and video perfection. There’s one constant, however. Whenever I’ve pulled the trigger on the latest and greatest, the Next Big Thing has always been lurking around the corner. Without dwelling too much on the geeky details of each component, let’s take a brief tour of the progression of the Cinematic Catharsis theater…
I started out with a JVC hi-fi VHS VCR and 2-channel stereo system in 1990, and it didn’t take too long to realize that this was hardly the pinnacle of home theater technology. After renting laserdisc players a few times, I decided this was where I needed to go, and purchased a used model from a now long defunct store in Woodland Hills, California, called The Laser’s Edge. Discs were bulky and expensive, and the player was temperamental, but I felt confident that I was partaking in the best that early 90s technology had to offer. What could be better than that? Little did I know that just a few years later, DVDs were lying in wait to unseat laserdiscs from their venerable pantheon. After they stopped producing laserdiscs, I knew that I had to take the plunge again, into a new format.
But wait, there’s more! The details about the evolution of the Cinematic Catharsis theater get a little muddled here, but suffice it to say that the original DVD player suddenly wasn’t good enough, lacking progressive scan, so it was time to make another purchase. And that was good… until high definition came along. This required a new TV, and yet another format. After the bloody HD disc wars had subsided, Blu Ray had emerged victorious. And of course, I just had to have it. After more than a little negotiating, cajoling and pleading with Mrs. Cinematic Catharsis to sell the merits of the new format, we purchased our new Blu Ray player in early 2009 to complement our 1080i television with a Dolby Digital/DTS sound system. Not too shabby, but apparently not entirely up to the exacting standards of Blu Ray. Time marches on, and we fast forward a wee bit to the present day, as the whole 3D marketing juggernaut is taking shape. Forget for a moment that they were just telling us a little while ago that Blu Ray was the best thing out there. Now there’s 3D Blu Ray. It’s one louder!
What we have here is a gimmick that’s been shoved down the public’s throat since the 50s, albeit in new and improved form. Now that the technology gap between watching a movie in a public movie theater versus watching a movie at home has narrowed considerably, we’re being subjected to the newest weapon in the electronics manufacturers’ arsenal. I can’t help but recall the seminal children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” For the uninitiated, Laura Joffee Numeroff’s tome chronicles the nightmarish chain of events that follow after the eponymous mouse is given said cookie. Its 3D equivalent might be titled, “If You Buy a 3D Blu Ray Player.” If you buy a 3D Blu Ray player, you’ll need to get a criminally overpriced 3D television to go with it. Of course, if you buy a 3D television, you’ll want to buy several $100 pairs of 3D glasses to share this amazing technology with your friends and family. If you buy the 3D glasses, you’ll want to buy 3D Blu Ray movies to watch – all three of them (only a slight exaggeration). Oh, I forgot to mention that if you want to listen to that incredible, upgraded 3D sound, you’ll need to get an HDMI 1.4 compliant receiver (Too bad for anyone who has an earlier model, but I’ll spare you the messy details). But hold on a minute, Mr. Cinematic Catharsis, I heard that there are companies out there that are working on 3D TVs that don't require glasses! Okay, point taken. Just subtract the cost of the glasses, and you’ve still spent thousands of dollars on new equipment that will likely be obsolete sooner than you think. You didn’t really think that the home video gods would let you off the hook so easily in your quest for video nirvana, did you?
This begs the question: Is 3D really necessary to enjoy movies? At best, 3D seems well suited for “event” films like Avatar, but not quite as necessary for everyday viewing. For more on this subject, I suggest reading Roger Ebert’s intriguing article about the relevance of 3D. Suffice it to say that we are getting further away from the experience of movies as a medium of the mind, as it becomes all about the bells and whistles. In the end, is the investment in yet another upgrade worth it? Your mileage will undoubtedly vary.
So, is the Cinematic Catharsis theater in danger of becoming obsolete? I guess it depends on your definition of obsolete. Even if you decide to buy the most up-to-date system imaginable, you can count on the marketing spin doctors to make you feel as if your current set-up is somehow inadequate. After all, you might as well be looking at cave paintings, you unsophisticated cretin! Unless we have the financial resources of Bill Gates, we all have to draw the line eventually, and I feel that it’s now. For the foreseeable future, I will probably limp along with my plain-Jane, 5.1-channel, 1080i, dimensionally challenged system, while supplementing my disc-based viewing with the less-than-perfect but instantly gratifying access to my Netflix instant queue. This will have to do for the time being -- at least until they progress to the point of Star Trek-style holodecks or finding a way to beam their content directly to my cerebral cortex.
Here we stand, at another technological crossroads. Will the public buy into it, or will 3D be another dead end? Only time and discretionary income will tell.
The End... Or is it?