Watching 3D Movies
April 14, 2010 1:01 PM   Subscribe

Where in the theater is the best place to sit while watching a 3D movie?

I've seen 'Avatar' twice, each time sitting in the middle area of the theater, once way off to the side, and loved it both times. Recently we went with our tall friends to see 'Alice', and sat in the very back row where there is more leg room. I liked the movie, but I felt we were on the outer edge of the 3D 'zone' and I wished I was sitting closer to the screen. Am I right? Is there a sweet spot for watching 3D movies in a regular (non Imax) theater?
posted by jsslz to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've always assumed the center, as I figured they would put the best viewing angle in the center.
posted by InsanePenguin at 1:19 PM on April 14, 2010

I saw both of those movies in 3D, sitting in approximately the same spot in the theater (about 1/4 of the way back, in the center), and I can tell you that the 3D effects in Avatar were a LOT more impressive than the 3D effects in Alice.
posted by amarynth at 1:20 PM on April 14, 2010

The 3D effect in movie theaters is done by inducing parallax through feeding each of your eyes a slightly different image (generally through the use of polarized lenses/projectors). In that sense, there isn't so much a sweet spot, because each eye is seeing the same image it would be from anywhere else in the theater. My guess would be that rather than there being a sweet spot, there would be some benefit to having the screen image filling the correct proportion of your visual field, though I don't know exactly what that proportion is.

However, my guess is that the difference in this case came down to how the 3D effect was added to the two movies. Avatar was designed and shot with 3D in mind (two cameras, etc.), and so the depth effects were probably more convincing, whereas in Alice the 3D effect was added as a post-production "trick." That is, Alice was shot in 2D and they "cheated" to add the 3D later.
posted by stufflebean at 1:26 PM on April 14, 2010

I just wanted to add that my quotes were because it's only a trick/cheating if you're a 3D purist. They're certainly not for emphasis.
posted by stufflebean at 1:30 PM on April 14, 2010

ditto on the 3d 'cheating'...real 3d always looks better. but, as a general note, there is a 'sweet spot' in the middle of any movie theater...not for the visuals, but for the sound (remember, light travels much much faster than sound)...the soundtrack on any given film is balanced for the middle of the theater. sit too far forward or too far back (particularly in a large theater) and you may notice that the lip-sync is a little 'off'...
posted by sexyrobot at 1:41 PM on April 14, 2010

The other thing is that, even if you don't notice it in daily life, your eyes may not focus exactly on a screen that's too close or too far away. That's an issue for me.

Seconding the comments about Alice. I liked the film, but the 3d in some scenes was obviously substandard - to the point of "what?". Disney! I haven't seen Avatar, but I have seen How to Train Your Dragon, in which the 3D rocked.
posted by sneebler at 1:42 PM on April 14, 2010

A friend of mine told me he saw Avatar and could only get a seat off-axis near the side, he wasn't really impressed with the 3D effect. Then he saw it again, and sat dead center, and the 3D was much improved.

I'd say the front-back axis is less important than the left-right axis. Try to sit dead center. I suggest sitting 1/3 of the way from front to back of the theater.

I recall seeing an old Kodak cinematographer's handbook that had a formula for calculating the optimal viewing distance of a film, it was tricky but always came out to roughly 1/3 of the way from the front. If you sit too close, you get "strobing" which can be unpleasant, if not nauseating. I sat 1/3 of the way from the front when I saw Avatar, I noticed it was occasionally right on the edge of strobing, but I couldn't tell if this was normal and was the same at all distances.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:55 PM on April 14, 2010

I attended a talk by Phil McNally recently who's stereoscopic supervisor at Dreamworld and who most recently worked on How to Train Your Dragon. He spent much of his talk on the 3D sweet spot, which is approximately in the center of the theater. My recollection of his argument is rather hazy, but it seems to do with the fact that the filmmakers are projecting images in front of or behind the screen for various effects, which are tailored for hypothetical viewers in the center of the theater. So unless I'm mixing this up, viewers close to the screen will see things that are supposed to be behind the screen on the screen and vice-versa. McNally also talked about how they were initially unsure how easy it would be to convert movies to a 3D for TV format but found that luckily the average viewing distance at home almost exactly corresponds to optimal viewing distance for screens the size of typical TVs. Therefore viewing distance definitely matters.
posted by peacheater at 4:08 PM on April 14, 2010

I saw Avatar in 3D twice, both times from the center seats but preferred the viewing where I was in the front 1/3 of the theater for two reasons: a) closer up, I saw less of the screen edges in my peripheral vision thus the movie felt more immersive and b) tilting my head back slightly helped keep the ill-fitting goggles from sliding down my nose. Not exactly 3D related but something I'll definitely take into consideration should I go to another 3D movie because holding the glasses to my face w/ my left hand for 2 hours sorta sucked.
posted by jamaro at 9:26 PM on April 14, 2010

Thanks everyone, excellent info.
posted by jsslz at 11:44 PM on April 14, 2010

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