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Which 3D Glasses Are Used in Cinemas?

Which 3D Glasses Are Used in Cinemas?

Most cinephiles know the unique thrill of watching movies in 3D format. 

With various malls and movie houses offering 3D and 4D viewing experiences like RealD 3D and IMAX, the 3D medium has since proven itself to be more than just a fad. 

No matter where in the world you watch a 3D film however, one thing ties them together – the magic of the 3D glasses. 

If you have ever wondered which 3D glasses are used in cinemas, know that the most common kind is a pair of polarized lenses. 

Also known as passive 3D technology, these dark lenses are the most popular choice for 3D cinemas due to their bright colors, light build, and their unique system of restricting light to each eye to create the life-like effects we all know and love.

Though 3D glasses are a staple for elevated movie-viewing, moviegoers rarely know about the technology behind them. 

In this article, you can learn more about which 3D glasses are used in cinemas, as well as the different types of 3D glasses used in the industry. 

Whether you are a businessman looking to open a moviehouse of your own, or a hobbyist that desires to bring the magic of 3D to their home theater, you are sure to learn more about which glasses can deliver the perfect 3D cinema experience! 

When Were 3D Glasses Made?

people wearing 3D glasses in the cinema

Fans of the 3D viewing accessory have renowned American physicist and businessman Kenneth J. Dunkley to thank for the life-like movie experience that 3D glasses can provide. 

Dunkley came up with the idea of 3D viewing glasses after intensive study of human vision. His patented 3-DVG (three-dimensional viewing glasses) design worked by turning two-dimensional visuals into a three-dimensional space by blocking out two points in a viewer’s peripheral vision.

Though the 3-DVG are not the pair used in the modern cinemas of today, their patented creation back in 1986 carved out the path for further improvements on the model. These improved iterations are the 3D glasses used in theaters whenever we watch a 3D flick on the big screen. 

What Type of 3D Do Theaters Use?

While IMAX theaters only reached the full height of their popularity in the early 2000s to the 2010s, cinemas over the years have used different 3D glasses technologies alongside older types of 3D long before 2000.

The foundational components of 3D actually began as early as the 1830s, with Joseph Plateau’s stroboscopic animation and Charles Wheatestone’s stereoscope – a viewing device that offered left-eye and right-eye views of the exact same scene to deliver a more ‘realistic’ 3D effect.

However, the dawn of modern 3D usage in movies started in the 1920s with Laurens Hammond’s patented Teleview system, which featured a stereoscopic 3D viewing experience. 

These early 3D viewing apparati were attached to movie seats and relied on a rotary shutter that was synched up with the movie. 

This was a novel idea way ahead of its time, but the impracticality and rigidity of the system and viewing devices made it costly for both the viewer and the filmmakers that wished to cultivate it.

The bones for modern 3D cinema technology as we know it only came about through Kenneth Dunkley’s 3-DVG patent, which was the lens of choice for traditional 3D formats. The 3-DVG’s spiritual successors were built to complement the following 3D technologies.

RealD 3D

Utilizing a circular polarized light to create the dynamic effect that 3D brings, RealD 3D is the most common type of 3D technology used in commercial cinemas. 

RealD 3D has to be used with the corresponding polarized glasses  in order to project the correct images to the left and right eye for viewers. 

In respect to that, the circular nature of the polarized light meant that any head movement on the viewer’s part would not affect the consistency of the 3D effect.


blue neon of IMAX inscription

Defined by its immersive nature and the large screen size, nothing incites the wow factor like an IMAX experience. 

This 3D technology does come at a tradeoff however, swapping in the more dated analog technology of linear polarization glasses. 

These linear polarization lenses mean that any head movements can interrupt the 3D effect of your movie and cause unpleasant side effects like nausea, headaches, and/or disorientation. 

Because of these effects, IMAX 3D manufacturers have also tested compatibility with other digital lens types. Bear in mind that most IMAX theaters still use linear polarization specs for their showings!

Dolby 3D

As the latest type of 3D technology, Dolby 3D has the best to offer when it comes to providing a true 3D cinema experience. Because it is the newest in the roster, it also has the most innovations. 

While it still uses polarization, a commercial Dolby 3D cinema’s magic comes alive with its special multilayer glasses. 

Each layer of polarized lens in your specs controls the color and light that pass through, while its curved shape also minimizes any risk of headaches, even if you move your head while watching. 

How Many Types of 3D Glasses are There? 

Though polarized lenses are the most commonly used in commercial movie theaters, there are three main types of glasses used in contemporary 3D viewing in cinemas around the world.

Which 3D Glasses are Used in Cinemas? 

Shutter Glasses

a 3D shutter glasses

These heavy specs make use of liquid crystal shutter glasses to achieve the coveted 3D effect. 

Also known as 3D LCD shutter glasses, these spectacles work by synchronizing the images displayed by movie screen projectors to the strategic blocking of light in your vision. 

By preventing light from entering either your left or right eye during specific movie scenes, your eyes are manipulated into seeing the same picture differently. 

This technology is what creates the dynamic ‘3D’ effect as you enjoy your movie. The timing of how light is blocked is also what tricks the brain into compensating for any ‘blocked’ footage on the opposite eye, creating a seamless movie-viewing experience. 

This mechanism of blocking and unblocking light is likely the source of the name “shutter glasses”. 

Shutter glasses are battery-operated devices with built-in LCDs, though modern versions are much sleeker and more compact than their boxy predecessors. Their slimmer profile also allows more light and color to come through without sacrificing comfort.

Polarized Glasses

a 3D polarized glasses

Defined by their crisp lines and vivid colors, the contemporary movie experience that is widely available today is made possible by using polarized lenses. 

Generally, polarized glasses possess a vertical filter that blocks out any horizontal light and glare. 

By isolating light and color, 3D film makers are able to alter what a moviegoer sees through their lenses by creating different images for both eyes using this filter. 

With each eye isolating horizontal and vertical projection respectively, audience members can watch footage come alive by experiencing completely different things in either eye as the brain makes up for any gaps in between.

Not all polarized glasses are the same, as they need to match the technology being used at your current theater. 

Dolby 3D theaters will require the curved Dolby 3D glasses to deliver cutting-edge colors and sharpness without its users suffering headaches and nausea. 

On the other hand, Analog IMAX 3D will need the corresponding analog IMAX 3D lenses for the linear polarization technology to match up. Otherwise, viewers will just see a blurry version of the movie on screen.

Stereoscopic Glasses

a 3D glasses

Practical and affordable, 3D stereoscopic lenses  are a rare novelty in the world of 3D cinema. These foldable paper glasses used to be a fan favorite among theater owners for their low maintenance and procurement costs. 

They work by isolating the color of the light we see in each eye –  with red lens filtering out red light and the cyan lens filtering out cyan light respectively. 

This is what creates the illusion of images jumping out at us. Though used sparingly in cinemas in this day and age, the 3D stereoscopic technology persists in cinematic TV releases and can make for unique comic-reading experiences.

Can You Use 3D Glasses From the Movie Theater at Home? 

children in 3D glasses watch movie at home

The short answer? Yes!

In theory, you can use any 3D glasses from the movie theater at home, provided that the specific type of 3D lenses you own also line up with the 3D technology your TV provides. 

For instance, Dolby 3D glasses will only ever work with a TV that uses Dolby 3D technology. 

Even though Dolby 3D is the latest in 3D technology, there is a high chance that your specs won’t work well with an IMAX 3D TV.

Keep in mind however that 3D technology at home is now more of a novelty than an option. 

Most, if not all 3D TV manufacturers have stopped manufacturing 3D tech television sets in favor of OLED or HDR’s high-contrast, vibrant colors, and Smart TV functionalities. 

However, you can still enjoy 3D at home if you already own a 3D-capable TV and miss the experience of 3D viewing.

In our opinion, you might be better off using your cash to see your favorite new flick in an IMAX, RealD, or Dolby 3D theater near you.

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