3D vs 4D - What's The Difference?

Velina Nenova
Velina Nenova

Updated · Feb 07, 2023


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3D technology has been around for quite a while now, with movies, video games, and even some TVs offering such an experience.

4D, on the other hand, is a relatively recent innovation that builds on the principles of the former.

Below, we'll take a look at the concepts and theories behind these terms and clear out the 3D vs. 4D confusion.

Let’s start:

What Is a Dimension?

In mathematics, a dimension is an attribute of space that allows us to quantify its size. Namely, we can describe the length of a line, the width of a plane, or the height of a solid object.

Other examples of dimensions include time, weight, and location.

Each event occupies a certain amount of time, and every object has a weight and location in space. The latter is often described by coordinates—measures of distance from a given point.

For example, the coordinates of New York City are 40° N, 74° W. That means the city is 40 degrees north of the Equator and 74 degrees west of the prime meridian.

Most physical objects exist in three dimensions. However, some (such as solutions) can be in a 4D world or even more.

Dimensions are also helpful in describing the relationships between objects. For example, two things are parallel if they have the same dimensions.

They're measured in units, such as inches, centimeters, or meters, and quantified using mathematical concepts like ratio or proportion.

The theory of "multidimensional space'' is an area of active research in mathematics and physics. It attempts to explain phenomena that can't be adequately described using our usual understanding of a three-dimensional space.

What Is the Difference Between 2D and 3D?

2D and 3D refer to the number of dimensions in a given space.

The most familiar 2D examples are probably those found on a piece of paper or a computer screen. These spaces are flat, meaning they have no depth.

In contrast, 3D spaces have height, width, and depth. The world we live in is three-dimensional, as are the objects we interact with on a daily basis.

When comparing 2D vs. 3D spaces, they might seem very different at first. However, they have a lot in common—both can be represented by points, lines, and shapes.

The way these elements are used varies depending on the dimensionality of the space. In 2D, points and lines can create shapes, but in 3D, the three may all exist independently of each other.

That's because a 2D space is confined to a single plane, while a 3D one isn't. As a result, objects in 3D are able to occupy the same point in space without intersecting.

What Is the Difference Between 3D and 4D?

Most people are familiar with 3D technology—it's utilized in movies, games, and medicine, among many other fields.

For example, viewing two images, slightly offset from each other, with special glasses creates the illusion of depth.


What Is 4D?

The fourth dimension of space is commonly referred to as time. It's a mathematical concept that goes beyond length, width, and height.

While we experience time as a linear progression from past to present to future, in 4D, it's more of a dimension that exists outside our standard three-dimensional space.

The best way to visualize 4D is to think of it as a cube, each side representing a dimension, while the cube itself portrays all four.

A 4D object would be something like a tesseract, which is the four-dimensional analog of a cube.

Just as we can move freely in three dimensions, in 4D, we would be able to move unobstructedly in all four. That would, theoretically, give us the ability to do things like pass through walls or travel backward in time.

Although 4D objects are purely hypothetical at this point, some scientists believe they very well may be possible to create one day using advanced technologies.

What Is the Difference?

In short, 3D technology creates a three-dimensional image, while 4D adds the element of time, ultimately creating a four-dimensional one.

3D vs. 4D Movies

3D is being used in a variety of settings, from movies to video games. There are two main types of this technology, active and passive, both coming with their own pros and cons.

The active 3D glasses are more expensive and require batteries, but they provide a more immersive experience. Meanwhile, the passive ones are more affordable and don't need a source of energy, but the picture quality isn't as good.

4D, on the other hand, is a term describing movies that include additional elements beyond the visual aspects of 3D. For example, motion seats, water sprays, and scents that help enhance the viewing experience.

While these productions aren't technically "true" 4D technology, they're still a fun way to enjoy a movie.

3D Printing vs. 4D Printing

3D printing technology is constantly evolving! One of the latest innovations experts are working on is actually 4D printing.

So, what's the difference between them?

3D printing is the process of creating objects layer by layer from a digital file. It requires particular software, hardware, and materials for the job.

4D printing adds another dimension: time.

Namely, 4D-printed objects could change shape or form over time in response to stimuli, such as heat, light, or water.

For example, a chair that could fold itself up when not used or a bridge that adapts to changing traffic patterns can be created. This type of printing is still in its early stages, but the potential applications are already extremely fascinating and motivating.

The idea is that in the future, 4D-printed materials could make it possible to create everything from self-assembling furniture to adaptive medical implants.

3D vs. 4D Ultrasound

Ultrasound imaging is a type of medical scan using high-frequency sound waves to create pictures of the inside of the body. It's a non-invasive procedure that doesn't produce ionizing radiation, making it a safe option for pregnant women and their unborn babies.

3D ultrasounds create three-dimensional images of a baby, while the 4D also shows movement in real-time.

4D is the newer technology and provides a more detailed and realistic view that many expecting parents prefer.

Two-dimensional imaging is also used for these purposes, but considering the 2D vs. 3D benefits, the latter has become more widespread.

However, 4D scans are not as common as they usually aren’t covered by insurance (or vice versa).

Ultimately, deciding between the options depends on the individual needs and preferences.

History of the 4D Concept

The 4D concept dates back to the 18th century in the work of mathematician and astronomer Lagrange.

Almost a century later, Charles Howard Hinton had the concept of 4D explained in his essay "What is the Fourth Dimension?". Thanks to him, we have the terms "tesseract," "ana," and "kata" and a method to visualize the fourth dimension with cubes.

Further, mathematicians, scientists, and engineers developed 4D technology, which eventually led to many exciting discoveries.

Computer-aided design (CAD) and animation software assist in adding time as a fourth dimension to a 3D space, thus making it possible to create more realistic simulations of objects' movement and interaction.

Thаt allows architects and engineers to design and test products and systems before they're built, saving time and money.

It's now an essential tool for many industries, and despite its relatively recent origins, it has profoundly impacted how we live and work.

Wrap Up

The distinction of 2D vs. 3D vs. 4D can be a bit confusing at times, but hopefully, we helped clear things up.

A dimension is a characteristic of space, such as length, width, and depth. These are the ones we experience in our everyday life.

The fourth dimension is theorized to be time, but not in the linear sense we apply to it. Rather, it represents what lies beyond the before-mentioned three dimensions.

Even if we don't yet have a way to experience it directly, we can use our imaginations and mathematical models to try to understand it better.


Are humans 3D or 4D?

This debate has been going on for a while, and there is still no clear consensus.

Proponents of the 3D view argue that we only exist in three dimensions: length, width, and height. They point to our everyday experience as proof; after all, we only ever move in three directions (forward/backward, left/right, up/down).

Opponents believe there is more to our existence. They consider the fact that we experience time as evidence that we must exist in at least four dimensions (length, width, height, and time).

Although the debate continues, for now, it seems that whether humans are 3D or 4D is a matter of perspective.

Does 4D exist?

The idea of 4D has been around for centuries, and there have been many attempts to define it.

In general, the concept of 4D refers to a fourth spatial dimension, in addition to the traditional three (length, width, and height).

Some philosophers have argued that time in itself is the fourth dimension, but others have posited the existence of an additional physical characteristic.

However, there is currently no scientific evidence to support the existence of 4D, and it remains an area of philosophical and mathematical speculation.

Nevertheless, the idea of 4D continues to capture the imaginations of scientists and laypeople alike, and it may one day be proven to be real.

What are the four dimensions?

The four dimensions include the three spatial ones (length, width, and height) and that of time.

Each spatial dimension corresponds to a distance along one of the axes of a coordinate system. As for time, it's measured as a progression from one moment to the next.

They can all be visualized as points in a four-dimensional space, each representing a single moment in time.

In physics, the fourth dimension is often used to describe aspects of reality that can't be directly observed, such as gravity or electromagnetism. By understanding the concept, scientists are able to develop theories that explain these phenomena. Additionally, it’s helpful in exploring hypothetical scenarios, such as alternate universes or time travel.

Ultimately, the four dimensions provide a powerful tool for understanding our world and imagining other possibilities.

What is 2D in movies?

When you watch a movie in a theater, it appears as if the images on the screen are three-dimensional. However, most movies are actually recorded and projected in two dimensions. The illusion of depth is created by a technique called perspective.

Our eyes naturally perceive objects in three dimensions, so when we see a 2D image, our brain automatically tries to interpret it as a three-dimensional scene.

That is why objects closer to the screen appear larger than those that are far away. To create the illusion of depth, filmmakers must control the placement of objects in the frame.

By careful planning and execution, they're able to trick our brains into seeing a three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface.

Nonetheless, thanks to the new technology, you can now also compare the experiences of 3D vs. 4D cinema and decide which one you like better.


Velina Nenova

Velina Nenova

Velina describes herself as passionate media savvy and a versatile individual with numerous different interests, most a result of her Media & Communications BA. She has also developed a keen interest in Digital Marketing and Advertising. Her never-ending desire to constantly learn new things and enrich herself and her ultimate dream to go around the globe before 45 are her driving forces.

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