Differences Between Real 3D & Digital 3D

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Differences Between Real 3D & Digital 3D
A 3-D theatre can use Imax, RealD 3D or Dolby Digital 3D. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

3-D technology used in movie theatres include Imax, RealD 3D and Dolby Digital 3D. These three leading competitors are the theatre owners' options for the 3-D system to use in their cinemas. While each system has specific differences, all of them have one thing in common: the use of 3-D glasses. Imax is primarily based on film technology, while RealD 3D and Dolby Digital 3D are both digital 3-D formats. In the case of RealD 3D and Dolby Digital 3D, their differences are more technical than visual in nature.

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3-D Glasses

While both RealD 3D and Dolby Digital 3D use the circular polarisation system in their projection technologies, the Dolby Digital 3D glasses are more expensive and fragile compared to those used in RealD 3D. This type of 3-D glasses uses special multi-coated lens, which makes them more expensive to produce. The said glasses are not the disposable type and a strict control over the distribution and collection of these glasses are very much apparent in movie theatres.

Movie Screens

RealD 3D requires a special kind of silver screen to be used in the cinema because of the polarisation needs of the projected stereoscopic image. For a Dolby Digital 3D theatre, it actually requires polarised projection as well, but it uses the same standard white screen utilised in ordinary 2-D digital theatres. This means that converting a theatre from 2-D to 3-D doesn't require changing the prior movie screen used. This also solves the reflection problems encountered in silver screens.


In RealD 3D, the cinema requires expensive investment on digital cinema projectors compatible with the RealD 3D system. For one cinema, the system uses opposing circular polarised lenses and two projectors. Meanwhile, in Dolby Digital 3D, digital cinema projectors used in 2-D movies can actually be used. The projector only requires a simple accessory called a rotating filter assembly to be inserted in between its lamp and picture element to allow 3-D projection.

Overall Theatrical Setup

A RealD 3D theatre is a permanently set-up theatre geared towards 3-D screenings. This is because it uses a different projection screen and digital projector compared to the one 2-D digital cinema theatres use. For a Dolby Digital 3D theatre, since it can use the same projection screen and digital projector utilised in 2-D digital cinema theatres, the actual theatre can be used interchangeably for 2-D and 3-D screenings. The rotating filter wheel assembly installed in the projector simply retracts to showcase 2-D movie presentations.

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