Is 3-D dead?

First ESPN dropped their 3-D sports channel. Now the BBC is putting a hold on 3-D. Is 3-D doomed?
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor on

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?

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