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a 4-D experience combines a 3-D film (=a film that looks as if it has length, depth and width) with other physical effects on the audience such as smells, water spray etc

'… apparently Moviefone figured out that Spy Kids 4, which was done in Aroma-Scope (4D), or what I call smello-vision with scratch and sniff cards, has lasted longer than the Kardashian marriage. …'

TG Daily 15th November 2011

During the festive holiday season at the end of 2011, there's a chance that you might have taken a trip to the cinema and donned a pair of those silly plastic glasses in order to enjoy a 3-D movie experience. Alternatively, you might have splashed out on the latest technology and invested in a 3-D TV, for which you'll still need to wear those daft specs, but at least you can do so in the privacy of your own home!

typical [4-D] effects include pleasant or nasty smells, smoke, vibration, tickling and water spray

If done well, 3-D films can be quite impressive, often cleverly simulating the idea of things coming out of the screen so that we feel like we're able to touch them, though it's only in fact our eyes which are ever being assaulted by the effects. But what if other sensory dimensions could be added to the cinema-going experience? This is the concept behind 4-D, where sight, touch, smell and movement are all potentially incorporated into the set-up.

A 4-D experience is a form of entertainment which combines a 3-D film with physical effects occurring in synchronization with it. For instance, if on screen a horse and cart is bumping along a dirt track, audience seats might move gently up and down in rhythm, or as leaves are being swirled around by the wind, air is blown into the faces of the audience. Other typical effects include pleasant or nasty smells, smoke, vibration, tickling and water spray, the latter sometimes used to rather comical effect as in for example when a character sneezes.

Up until more recently, 4-D film experiences tended to be confined to theme parks (there are several 4-D attractions at the Disney and Universal parks across the world) and other tourist attractions such as London's London Eye 4D Experience, which includes wind, snow and a virtual firework display. However in November 2011, Korean cinema chain CGV opened what it claimed to be the world's first dedicated 4-D theatre, where the film viewing experience routinely includes wind, water, aromas and vibrations from specially adapted seating.

Background – 4-D

4-D is of course based on the term 3-D, an abbreviation for three-dimensional that began to appear more regularly from the early 1960s. The three dimensions referred to are length, breadth and depth. Correspondingly in 4-D, these dimensions are augmented by a fourth sensory 'dimension', which can include touch, movement, smell, or presumably even taste.

The concept of a 3-D film is older than you might expect, the first examples dating as far back as the 1950s. Technological advances meant the idea became more established in the 80s and 90s, but it wasn't until the unprecedented success of 20th Century Fox's film Avatar in 2009, that the concept was really brought into the mainstream, prompting the film industry to respond and leading to the much wider availability of 3-D presentations. 3-D television is as I write the hottest new technology in home entertainment, and will no doubt also increase the relative frequency of the term in everyday language.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 13th February 2012.

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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