Is 3-D dead?

Is 3-D dead?

Summary: First ESPN dropped their 3-D sports channel. Now the BBC is putting a hold on 3-D. Is 3-D doomed?


This was never going to be easy. In order to support the added costs of 3-D programming, many 3-D ready viewers were needed. But the cost of the 3-D screens and players stopped broad adoption, and the lack of 3-D programming reduced the incentive to make the investment.

Chicken and egg in 3-D
The BBC's report  on their decision had some interesting statistics. They noted that for the opening of the Olympic Games fully one half of Britain's 1.5 million 3-D sets tuned in.

But no other programming attracted anywhere near that fraction of 3-D ready customers. The best they saw was 5% penetration of 3-D capable systems.

That's weak.

2.5 years ago I gave 3-D a 70% chance of success provided they focused on glasses-free and mobile displays. That means either Apple or Samsung must take the lead - and neither seems ready to take the leap.

What does this mean?
What this means is that even the people who have invested in 3-D ready sets did not find the advantages of 3-D service compelling. After they'd seen it was only a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have.

Clearly, it wasn't cost: these people it already bought the systems. So what was the problem? The BBC's head of 3-D said viewers found it "hassly" and speculated

I think when people watch TV they concentrate in a different way. When people go to the cinema they go and are used to doing one thing - I think that's one of the reasons that take up of 3D TV has been disappointing.

Surely the BBC is continuing to look at the issues. It could be the quality of live 3-D wasn't that good. Or perhaps the "hassly" special glasses or limited viewing angles made it less attractive for group viewing.

Contrast this with the adoption of color TV back in the 1960s. Even though color sets were expensive and the color reproduction poor, once people got used to seeing their favorite programs in color there was no going back to black and white.

That is not the case with 3-D.

The Storage Bits take
If 3-D is going to be successful it is going to take a coordinated multiyear plan.

  • Cost need to be reduced. Instead of looking at 3-D as a potential cash cow - like Sony did with Blu-ray - consumer electronic companies need to see it as a reason for buying big screen home theaters instead of watching everything on tablets and phones.
  • Research has to continue to improve the production quality and the user experience of 3-D.
  • 3-D production must continue to build a library of 3-D content.
  • Most importantly, the industry must make glasses-free 3-D a priority. People aren't going to adopt 3-D until it is as easy as regular TV.

I think we're going to get there - I've been impressed with 3-D's potential - but this will be a marathon, not a sprint. 3-D cell phone displays will drive adoption. And a steadier flow of 3-D movies will continue to attract viewers.

Whatever it is, the industry hasn't cracked the code yet. But I hope they do.

Comments welcome, as always. What would it take for you to invest in 3-D: a 3-D smart phone or making it part of the 4k standard?

Topics: Storage, Apple, Mobility, Samsung

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  • Glasses killed 3D

    You only got a couple sets of glasses with your set purchase which is not good with family viewing. If you needed additional glasses, your particular required brand of glasses weren't always available at the store and were ridiculously expensive. How come movies hand out 3D glasses for free?

    Lastly, the getting-old baby boomers buying sets for therir families already wear perscription glasses. Glasses on top of glasses. Oy vey. The 3D glasses were never designed to support people like me alreeady wearing glasses -- so much a PITA and uncomfortable.
    • BINGO!

      "3D" glasses don't work right with prescription vision correction.
      3D is a lie anyway. It's an illusion of depth, not true 3 dimensionality. A true 3D system would allow the viewer to move point of view and see around corners, or the back, of the scene. Which means all 3D is is a means of separating the gullible from their money.
      • Around corners?

        The only around corners 3D is in the lab using holograms; there isn't any for the general public, so gullible is not an accurate description. When I go to the theater to see a 3D movie it is a very convincing illusion and usually adds to the enjoyment. Now that theater 3D is digitally projected the problems caused by film jitter are eliminated. Also many people in theaters wear their 3D glasses over their prescription glasses with no problem. Many 3D TV sets come with four pair of glasses and the price is only slightly higher. More pairs can easily be bought on line. Many of the movies coming out (including animated) are available in 3D. Now the producers of the DVDs need to keep the price for the 3D versions reasonable; especially as it only cost slightly or no more to print a 3D disc than a 2D disc.
      • I seriously doubt

        that the lack of an ability to enter the picture and look around corners is what is killing 3D television. If viewers were really so concerned about the fact that what they're witnessing is an illusion, than why don't they have a problem dealing with the fact that the 2D images they watch only contain the illusion of depth thanks to vanishing points, etc? Or the fact that what they are actually seeing is a series of still images and the sense of motion they see is an illusion caused by persistence of vision? Or the fact that what they perceive when the "see" something is actually the brain's interpretation of electric impulses generated after light reaches our nerves backwards, upside down and with various holes and gaps that are only filled in or corrected by our minds' interpretations, vs the actual object we're looking at? Sorry, but I find your argument a pathetic excuse to refer to others as "gullible".
      • PS

        I question the value of true 3D (as you put it) as anything more than a gimmick. Perhaps it would give some viewers who chose to do so the ability to attempt to look up skirts and down plunging necklines (the applications to porn would be endless), but by the same token it would deprive directors of a great deal of artistic control over their vision for the final product (or at least make it that much more difficult for them), even if they got around having to have cameras shooting from every angle. Interactivity is not necessarily a good thing. I personally think old variety shows that depended upon knowledgeable people to make editorial decisions over content were far superior to the current "the audience votes for THEIR favourites!" programs plaguing the airwaves.
    • Not free

      Most theaters add a $2US upcharge for the 3D glasses.
      • $2 upcharge for 3D glasses

        And then they ask for the glasses back. But if you keep the glasses, you can't bring them back and avoid the upcharge. Screwed again!
        big red one
        • Not around here!

          Cineplex charges about $3 extra to watch in 3D (mostly RealD 3D). The glasses are a throw-away item (they "recycle" them - whatever that means). If you want to watch in IMAX 3D, it's even more money.
          • glasses

            If you're 3D TV is one that uses polarized glasses (rather than shutters) then it is actually cheaper to go to a 3D movie and bring home the glasses (ask your seat neighbors for theirs too!) than to buy more glasses at a store. And they work just like the ones that came with the TV.
          • your, not you're

            Darn auto correct
        • Really?

          In Australia you pay a couple extra dollars for glasses at the theatre only if you don't already have your own pair. If you do wind up paying for 3D glasses, you get to keep them, and avoid the charge the next time you go. My wife and I are still using the same 3D glasses we received early in the theatrical run of Avatar.
    • Not to mention how we use the TV

      When we watch TV, most of the time it's that we turn it on as a distraction or some kind of entertainment while we do something else. With glasses, it takes away the whole possibility of walking in with the TV on and getting interested in what's on.
      Jacob VanWagoner
      • Nah.... A 3D set still sits in 2D mode anyway

        Mine still sits on in the background and the PS3 is on it now too.. kids love the 3d games from time to time too. I only got 3d for sports and the odd film and figured content would be added in due course but it's not really happened yet.

        Luckily I was in the market for a second TV anyway, and it didn't make sense to risk a lot of cash on another non 3D set. Mine is 2D 95% plus but still hopeful there will be more transmissions on Freeview, Freesat and BT Vison in future. Concerts, sports, and 3d films definitely have more impact in 3D in my opinion.
    • Many problems with 3-D

      Glasses are definitely a major complaint, but there are other problems. First, even the best 3-D systems cause eyestrain which detracts from the experience. The long-term effects of this on your eyesight are still inconclusive. Second, the glasses do not fit everyone. Those of us with "gianormous" craniums end up in pain trying to squeeze into 3-D glasses. Third, the vast majority of the 3-D movie content is idiotic. The stupid gimmick scenes designed to come out of the screen are so jarring that they ruin the continuity of the film. They interrupt the "suspension of disbelief" required to really enjoy the experience. For these reasons, I strongly dislike 3-D movies.

      Until we have "holodecks," I won't be investing in 3-D home theater equipment. My next planned upgrade is to 4k, not 3-D. In my opinion, Hollywood should stop making 3-D movies and focus on increases in resolution and better engineered audio tracks.
      • indeed

        I've never watched a single 3D movie because I already wear glasses and because 3D is known to mess up your eyes.
      • I love watching 3D movies at the Pictures!

        Been wearing Glasses since I was seven year old, (now 51) the only movies I go to are 3D ones! No eye strain and no issues with 3D glasses over my normal glasses.
        Wouldn't have a 3D TV at home because it's still to early. One day I hope they will get it right for home users and then I'll get one! 8-)
      • I'm not sure we need 4K...

        Going by the number of folk already wearing specs, replying here, I doubt 4k will enhance their viewing experience. A bit like retina displays on ipads... great for quality photographs but hardly a must-have user requirement. I want to see pictures, not specifications. (my ipad4 is little used and I prefer my ipad mini)

        Likewise with 3D... I have a set and enjoyed what little I have watched but have learned from my personal experience that there's not enough 3d transmitted. (I bought it for sports and the odd film; not general programs).

        I've a normal 52" in the main room but bought a 46" Panasonic 3D for the other room as I wanted the set in the corner. I've since learnt that active specs do NOT like white walls around the TV and do NOT respond well to bright lights (sun/glare) in the peripheral areas (flashing is VERY obvious with active glasses); and more importantly that I sit much closer to maximise my enjoyment. I reckon the 3D telly needs to be as big as you can get it, and ideally almost fill your specs totally.

        Many people will be negative to 3D simply because they don't have it... like my granny telling me in the early 70s that colour wasn't natural and mono tellys were fine... we know what followed there.

        If it survives and expands I would recommend polarised technology and the biggest screen you can afford/install.
    • My shutter glasses easily fit..

      I have thick lenses, and my shutter glasses are barely noticeable to me when watching 3D. I like the feature because I was such a fan of such trickery when I was a kid, and parlor readers, and GAF view-masters were king of family 3D entertainment. The additional hardware, was only a cheap set of four battery operated wireless glasses, and an emitter. What is not to like? I actually picked the type of glasses that made you look like you were watching an atomic explosion in the '50s - just for the geekiness! Folks just don't know how to have fun!!
  • The key:

    "... People aren't going to adopt 3-D until it is as easy as regular TV."
  • Novelty

    3-D is a novelty. Until recently it was always viewed as such. It's a gee wiz effect that should be reserved for B grade horror movies and the occasional science fiction film. Instead Hollywood tried to turn it into a way of squeezing more money out of theatergoers. Actually, given that a lot of theaters make it a point to schedule the 3D showing at the most convenient time, with 2D showings relegated to late or early showings, I'm surprised there hasn't been a backlash among theatergoers.