3D TV Takes A Back Seat

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4/6/2012 9:20:33 AM

3D TV Takes A Back Seat


Description: Philips 3D TV


Manufactures will turn their backs on 3D TVs over the coming year. So is 3D just another fad technology? Patrick Miller investigates.

3D has lost its spark. Few people were interested in the technology at this year’s CES IT tradeshow, which took place in January. It’s as if last year’s CES, where 3D TVs were all the rage, never happened. So how can it go from darling to dud in one short year?

The answer is a combination of things, such as a lack of content, a technology that hasn’t evolved fast enough, and the growth of more compelling HDTV tech.

LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and Visio will tout new Oled technology over the coming months. They will promote new content delivery services, TV based apps and voice commands, but no 3D TVs.

But 3D isn’t dead; it’s just gone into hibernation. You can expect to see little progress for the technology over the next year or two, but then it’ll come back with a vengeance. Here, we’ll explain the reasons behind its vanishing act.

The 3D dilemma

For the past two years, 3D technology has been rammed down our throats with varying degrees of success by HDTV makers. For manufacturers, 3D has been a compelling feature on multiple grounds. First, it gave consumers a reason to upgrade their TVs; and second, once TV makers had developed the 3D technology, they were able to add it to their sets at little cost to them and great expense to us. More importantly, major consumer electronics brands were able to use their 3D TVs to push sales of 3D cameras, smartphones and tablets.

But 3D image quality hasn’t improved in that timeframe, hovering around a generally good, but not amazing, level. This makes it hard to sell to new and existing 3D HDTV customers, who have to dig deep into their recession hit pockets.

Unlike with other tech niches, where the chips get faster and the laptops get thinner, in 3D the technology hasn’t evolved fast enough to keep consumers interested. If you were one of many who loathed TV makers pushing 3D on you, there was no breakthrough content or technology to make you a convert.

What do you want to watch?

In short, 3D hasn’t been an easy sell to consumers, with relatively few buyers proving to be overly enthusiastic about the technology. Consumers ask two questions: ‘Do I want to watch this show in 3D?’ to which the answers are “yes” and “I’m not bothered”.

Practically no-one is excited enough about 3D that they’d watch just to get the 3D experience. And not all of us are going to be interested in A very Harold and Kumar Christmas 3D or the Ultimate Fighting Championship 3D.

Still, if you do want to watch what limited 3D programming there is available, then we come to the third question: “Do I like the 3D effect enough to put up with active-shutter or passive 3D glasses?”

Goofy glasses

Both active-shutter and passive 3D glasses technology have stabilized. Passive 3D was big news at CES 2011, and active-shutter the year mostly incremental updates for the next year or so lighter glasses, minor advances in image processing features, and so on. There’s much talk of glasses free 3D displays, but that technology is still best suited for small screen devices such as the Nintendo 3DS and phones such as the Nintendo

The road to progress for 3D is sluggish, and HDTV buyers won’t hold off a purchase in order to wait for the next big thing in 3D.

Content conundrum


Description: Panasonic 3D TV

Content is also holding back the technology. If the TV industry wants to sell more 3D sets, glasses and Blu-ray players, the lack of available content must first be addressed.

Companies such as Samsung, LG and Vizio can’t do much to fix this problem they are tech manufacturers, not entertainment producers. Instead, these companies are focusing on their forthcoming Oled technologies, apps and services.

Sony and Panasonic, however, dip their toes in both entertainment and tech. Sony has the PlayStation 3, which supports 3D gaming. Sony also has a massive presence in the film and music industries. Panasonic is deeply entrenched in Hollywood and provides many of the professional grade cameras used to make 3D films and sports broadcasts. It can drive more 3D content production to expand its audience.

Sony and Panasonic aren’t giving up on 3D over the coming year, but they are less concerned by the technology inside the TVs themselves. In other words, you can expect to see more 3D films at your local cinema.

Smart TVs I demand

Description: Smart TV

If you look back, you might have thought internet connected smart TVs would have been the big thing in HDTV over the past two years. Instead, HDTV enthusiasts were saturated with 3D features, whether consumers liked them or not.

In 2012, the buzz is expected to surround smart TVs that stream content and have apps. Samsung and LG are promoting smart TVs that run gaming apps and connect to movie streaming services such as Netflix. Lenovo has an Android 4.0 based TV with natural language processing and speech recognition technology.

The pool of potential 3D TV buyers will increase at a slow but steady rate as more 3D content makes its way on to Blu-ray discs, streaming video channels and live broadcasts. For now, though, we’re keeping tabs on Oled screens and Sony’s Crystal LED technology. Both will improve and HDTV’s ability to display 3D, while glasses free 3D tech will continue to improve as we find ways to solve the viewable angle problem.

We wouldn’t be surprised to see a satisfactory glasses free 3D prototype in 2013, a ridiculously expensive one in 2014, and a reasonably priced one in 2015.

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