A Postmortem for 3D TV

Sections: 3D, TVs, Video

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Star Wars in 3D3D TV is all but dead. You may not like that fact, and it may seem positively counterintuitive given how many high-end TVs sport 3D as a bullet point feature. But consumers, by and large, have demonstrated that they’re just not interested, and in fact both the BBC and ESPN have pretty much given up on broadcast 3D.

So what happened? Ted Kritsonis at Digital Trends has a new story exploring the reasons why 3D is, if not dead, certainly irrelevant in the home. At least for now:

During CES 2010, 3D was all the rage on the show floor, and it seemed like an ideal situation for manufacturers and consumers, alike. It was relatively easy for TV makers to incorporate into flat-panel LCDs and plasmas, and it wasn’t going to cost consumers a premium to get the extra dimension onscreen. This may have looked like a perfect storm, but once you got past the action, it was all smoke and mirrors.

The introduction of 3D TVs around 2010 came smack dab in the middle of the fallout from the financial crisis, and TV sales were already flattening before the first 3D flat-panels could hit retail. With only a slight bump up in price and the promise of a flurry of 3D content, manufacturers thought this was the ticket to spurring more growth and churning dollars out of your wallet.

Of course, that meant you had to wear glasses to watch in 3D, and there was a tech angle to that, too. Active shutter glasses used batteries, similar to those in watches, and had LCD lenses that alternated the frames from your left and right eye so that you perceived the image on TV in 3D. Aside from the battery life, there were other caveats to these, and chief among them were the fact they didn’t come in curved designs and had no uniformity, meaning you couldn’t use a pair of Samsung shades on a Sony TV, for example. They also didn’t come cheap, either. They were over $100-$200 a pair, depending on the brand.

There’s more — lots more — where that came from, including thoughts on the fact that BYOG (bring your own glasses) was often impossible unless your buddies had the exact same brand of TV, with the exact same glasses technology, as well as the fact that viewing angles are reduced with 3D, many people complain of headaches, and then, well, there’s this:

“Although we may be seeing a different image and perspective through each eye, we are still only focusing on a 2D surface, which is very unnatural for the human brain,” explains O’Donovan. “Our 3D vision includes re-focusing at different levels all the time because our eyes never keep still for long. Even when we look in a mirror we’re refocusing on different parts of the image, not like a TV or theater screen, where we’re only focused on the surface of the screen. The 3D image is actually looking through somebody else’s eyes — very disconcerting and our brains tire of it eventually.”

O’Donovan figures this is a big reason why even glasses-free 3D isn’t going to be a savior for 3D TV technology.

“Glasses-free solutions haven’t shown that they actually offer the same quality of experience as wearing 3D glasses, so there isn’t much hope in glasses-free in the future,” he adds. “It’s great as a novelty, but not something we want to do all the time. Our brains will just shut off as the novelty wears off.”

Read: [Digital Trends: 3D TV autopsy: Did it finally die, or was it never alive to begin with?]

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  • Peter Weedfald

    Dennis… Great article and we truly need a post mortem on the billions of dollars spent by TV manufacturers to bring this incredible 3D experience home. Of course all you say, I and all in the industry agree and are grateful to be best exposed. But we must be ambient in our assessment meaning, the problem was truly the “chicken and the egg” of a lack of content for these 3D engines. Simply stated, content providers stopped driving content remakes or content new for home 3D TV’s because the TV manufacturers made nearly zero effort to make a market for 3D. Where were the multitude of TV commercials from the TV brands to excite and build the 3D market?… where was the PR for 3D on TV shows and medium elsewhere?… where was the advertising, marketing and promotions to create demand… which in turn would deliver the “egg” cooked to consumers demand for 3D content?

    So… we learned a valuable lesson… if you want to make a market for a new technology, let us not simply state the technology failed because of glasses or a lack of content. Let us add the most powerful acceleration touch point, caused by manufacturers investment in advertising, marketing and communications. Trust me, if those in Hollywood saw the advertising plans and then saw all the 3D positive consumer noise in broadcast, in narrow-cast and in micro-cast advertising… trust me, content would come alive and be pervasive. Why? Because Hollywood is not in the sales avoidance business… but Hollywood is very smart and when they see the “chicken” is hiding lone in the coop… they know their will be no 3D revenue or profit “eggs” hatching… here in the states or across the globe. Oh by the way, all this lack of advertising and marketing has cost both 3D manufacturers and all our wonderful retailers billions of dollars in lost intentions… next time let’s ensure their approach, launch and forecast expectations are backed by the muscle of marketing, advertising and communications. Otherwise we will have another cracked “egg” on our hands before it is cooked, before it is enjoyed at home!