CES 2011 a convinced me that 3D has a 70% chance of becoming mainstream consumer tech. But there's 2 conditions: 3D will be glasses-free; and it will take 10 years, not 3.
CES in 3D
3D was big at CES. Sony was all in, with 3D from the cool Bloggie HD video camera for $250, to crisp giant rear projection screens using polarized glasses.
Every other major TV maker was also in. Accessories makers were showing 3D glasses, both the more expensive LCD shutter glasses and the simpler and cheaper polarized type - and one had a combo design.
But large screen 3D push has already failed. Sales are dismal. Vendors are realizing that there won't be a quick transition to 3D among consumers - especially during the Great Recession.
Some blame the dorky glasses and put their hope in glasses-free screens. But that isn't the problem.
3DTV is in a chicken and egg situation. Hollywood has a steep learning curve to develop cost-effective production techniques for high quality 3D content. But where is the audience?
On the consumer side, after screening a 3D copy of Avatar a couple of times, where is the 3D content? Back in the 1950s color TV got a major boost when a big network, NBC, gambled on an all color format. But with all the networks today, who has that clout? ESPN maybe, if anxious wives go along.
The near-term future of 3D is not in the large screen world. Its mobile. Why?
- Small screen glasses-free 3D displays are higher quality than big-screens. I saw a half-dozen different small screens, ranging from an inch and a half to 4 inches, and they all provided a comfortable view.
- As mobile devices continue to evolve into general-purpose entertainment and communication systems, thousands of application developers will have an opportunity to experiment and to perfect 3D UI and content. 3D won't be a mass market until it is both fun and useful.
- Technology for large screen glasses-free 3D needs to evolve with consumers. Glasses-free is not as immersive: it is like looking into a 3D box rather than the leaps-at-you experience of classes-based 3D.
The large-screen 3D glasses-free screens suffered from irritating visual artifacts. For example, slight head movement would create momentary dark vertical bars.
Enhancements are needed. For example, 3D splits the screen resolution between two eyes, screens need 4K resolution to provide the equivalent of full HD today.
The lenses that split the picture to each eye need refinement too. With a higher resolution display the lenses can become finer and better aimed.
The Storage Bits take
Consumer video is one of the fastest growing applications for consumer storage, and 3D could double that. But 3D adoption needs more than a few blockbuster movies.
3D handhelds are the obvious way to go. Content producers get a low-cost platform for experimentation and development. And consumers get a low-cost way to ease into 3D.
Massive 3D adoption will be a bottom-up evolution, not a top-down vendor-driven coup. The rapid turnover in mobile devices is the perfect laboratory for 3D research and development.
Comments welcome, of course. All in all, this year's CES seemed to be more creative than last year's. That's reason for optimism.