Terrestrial 3D TV: A short history

To celebrate the week of 3D TV coming our way on Channel 4 this week, we thought you might enjoy an excursion down memory lane and into the history of terrestrial 3D telly

Nate Lanxon Special to CNET News
2 min read

If it escaped your attention that Channel 4 is broadcasting a series of programmes in 3D throughout this week, feel free to catch up. For the rest of you, we thought you might enjoy a three-dimensional excursion down memory lane.

Terrestrial broadcasts of 3D television have been taking place for years, usually as special episodes of popular programmes. As most of us (except Nate, who's pretty much a zygote) are around the 30-year-old mark, so one of our most notable shared memories of 3D telly was from Children in Need in 1993.

For the BBC charity extravaganza, Doctor Who made a revelatory comeback to UK goggleboxes. And, what's more, the Time Lord landed himself on the streets of Albert Square in EastEnders. Two crossover specials, roughly 5 minutes each in length, aired as part of a series of 3D programmes for that year's Children in Need evening, for which an estimated 13 million people tuned in to watch. All they needed were special 'Pulfrich-effect' 3D glasses, proceeds from the sale of which went to the needy children.

It was a lengthy 13 years until Britain got another taste of 3D TV. In 2006, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Prince's Trust, ITV1 broadcast an evening of live music and entertainment in 3D. But what made this event unique is that it was the first time 3D TV had been broadcast live. The event was attended, naturally, by the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and Prince Harry. Being present, they didn't have to wear the silly glasses.

Demonstrations of televisual pointlessness have not been confined to Britain, however. As if that comes as a surprise.

3rD Rock From The Sun

In 1997, two 3D episodes of the NBC classic 3rd Rock From The Sun premiered on American TV. The episodes -- A Nightmare On Dick Street, parts one and two -- used Pulfrich-effect glasses, just like the Children in Need specials. Viewers were treated to a series of 3D scenes throughout the episode.

We're not sure if the 3D versions of these end-of-series episodes ever saw the light of day in the UK, but they do feature as special features on the UK DVD box set.

The most recent 3D broadcast we know of took place just a few months ago. In February this year, another NBC show -- Chuck -- was used as something of a promotional tool to push people towards the new 3D movies in cinemas. The general consensus is that it sucked. It sucked bad. Viewers claimed it made them want to chuck.

Anyway, now, when the family gets together to watch The Queen in 3D, Flesh For Frankenstein in 3D and Hannah sodding Montana in 3D this week on Channel 4, you can regale them with your colossal knowledge of three-dimensional history. You're welcome.