I, Robot is back on 3D Blu-ray, but can it and JVC’s new conversion tech solve 3D’s content drought?

I Robot Sonny 3DIt was recently revealed that the amount of 3D studio movies in production this year was lower than last year, with 47 released in 2011 against 33 planned for 2012, which probably isn’t what anyone had in mind for the format hailed as the savior of cinema.

A drop like this, along with sniffy reviews and poor performance for big budget 3D pictures such as Mars Needs Moms and John Carter, doesn’t just hurt the theaters, as fewer 3D films in the cinema means fewer 3D Blu-rays too.

Despite this lack of content, Futuresource Consulting estimates there will be nearly 9 million 3D televisions in US homes by the end of the year, up from 5 million in 2011.

But if the stream of new movies with 3D is slowing, what will all these millions of people watch on their new TVs? Another showing of Transformers: Dark of the Moon or Drive Angry?

The answer could lie in the re-release of catalog titles which have been converted into 3D, all using a new 2D-to-3D conversion process pioneered by JVC.

Cheaper and quicker

Twentieth Century Fox has announced that Alex Proyas’ I, Robot will be the first movie converted using JVC’s new technology, and then released on Blu-ray later this year. It’s the first in a series of back catalog titles the studio plans to release.

Converting 2D footage to 3D has traditionally been an expensive and time-consuming process, with JVC’s director of video technology estimating it costs between $50,000 and $70,000 per minute of footage, and a team of 700 people may take nine months to complete the work.

That’s manageable if your budget is $175 million, but not if you’re attempting to convert a ten year-old film many people will already own. JVC says films like I, Robot will take “three people three months to convert at a third of the price” using its new technology, meaning the task is being given to computers rather than human artists.

Post-production 3D has been used on such “hits” as the aforementioned John Carter, along with many others including Wrath of the Titans and the re-release of Star Wars Episode One.

If the 3D failed to impress in these movies, which presumably had hundreds of people working on them, can leaving the conversion process down to computers make it any better?

Executives at Twentieth Century Fox, who have partnered with JVC on this project, believe so, saying the “advances in 3D conversion technology have exceeded our most optimistic expectations,” and that it will allow them to release more titles in the future.

Dipping into the back catalog

Fox has plenty of movies which it’s sure to be considering for the 3D treatment, as it owns the X-Men, Predator and Die Hard franchises, plus popular titles such as Speed, Strange Days and The X-Files.

That outspoken fan of 3D, James Cameron, also works closely with Fox, so if JVC’s tech holds up when I, Robot is launched, we could see True Lies and The Abyss converted too.

It’s impossible not to agree that for 3D to become a success, it needs more content, but forcing us to double-dip on catalog titles to get that boost is probably not the answer. JVC’s new conversion process needs to be very special indeed if the majority of people are to be convinced.