When we went to try Elsewhere's 3D glasses, we were skeptical. Then we were disappointed. Then, after a while of playing, we finally saw what we came for.
Elsewhere's proposal is to turn any 2D footage on your iPhone (no Android, yet) into a 3D video that doesn't need any of the pre- or post-capture conversion usually required. Instead, the app and lens attachments work together to trick your brain into creating a stereoscopic effect. The tech inside the app, put simply, converts motion into depth, meaning the effect only works with moving video. Like VR, the picture is split into two, one for each eye, and while viewing you can swipe up or down on the screen to intensify or de-intensify the 3D effect.
When we went to meet with Elsewhere's creators, Wendellen and Aza, they showed us a series of clips to demonstrate the effects. These were clips with extravagant effects designed to wow, but as we've found with 3D, it's often the more subtle effects that impress the most. Sure enough, it was when we moved onto watching something more low-key and never intended for 3D viewing that we "got it".
The a-ha moment came while watching a video 1940s Berlin, the stereoscopic effects fully popping. Our brain had been tricked into seeing a 2D video in three dimensions, and we reckon the appeal of this tech will be in revisiting the past. By simply sticking on a pair of lenses to your phone and rewatching videos captured from, say, a family holiday will let you relive those memories in a new way. And that's pretty cool.
Unlike VR, nobody needs to create content for this technology - it's every video that exists out there. It's the entirety of YouTube. Elsewhere has the biggest content store in the world. But some of it works better than others. Some of the videos did nothing for us. One video of flying animated whales (yup, flying) was more of a blur, while another clip from Toy Story had comparable 3D quality to when we saw it in the cinema. In one video we even became Walt Mossberg, who had previously been given an Elsewhere demo. Yeah, it got a bit weird.
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There's also an AR mode that lets you use the camera to, say, watch TV and give it an extra 3D layer. Our experience with this wasn't as good as watching the videos natively, and probably not what we'd use it for.
The whole experience is comparable to Google Cardboard in that there's no headset attachment - you need to hold the phone up to your face at all times - and probably better suited for shorter viewing periods. Wendellen told me she'd watched all of Scarface while using Elsewhere, and as intrigued as I am to try the same, I don't think it would be a comfortable experience.
When it comes to 3D, people haven't voted with their wallets, and Elsewhere's probably not going to create an overnight stereoscopic renaissance, but we're impressed that Elsewhere has managed to get 3D working on phones so effectively and cheaply - the lenses cost $50, and are available right now. As previously mentioned, you'll need an iPhone to use Elsewhere, 5S model or above.