Future of 3D TV: All In or Fold ‘em?
Just about everyone with an opinion on 3D in the home seems to show a genuine interest in the concept, but ... there are lingering questions, and the answer may lie somewhere in between.
Try getting the average consumer’s pulse on 3D, and just muttering the phrase “3D television” seems to elicit a different response from everyone. Like research would indicate, just about everyone I’ve seen with an opinion on 3D in the home seems to show a genuine interest in the concept, but what I am commonly finding are these same people uttering phrases that indicate a drastic misunderstanding of 3D in general. Specifically, phrases like “3D is just a fad” and “I’m not going to watch everything in 3D.”
Those two statements are inherently flawed, as is people’s entire understanding of 3D’s future in the home. What I consistently see is an “all or nothing” expectation, proving the industry has done a terrible job communicating the future of 3D to consumers, instead relying on the equally uninformed mass media and polo jockeys at CE chains to educate consumers on 3D. What are they saying? “Let me tell you about the transition to 3D TV ...”
Nothing could be worse for 3D.
Ten years ago, the industry started throwing HD-ready televisions at consumers during a time when there was little HD content. The message, “Soon you’ll be able to watch your favorite television shows and movies in HD, although there’s little content out there right now to watch other than a channel on DirecTV and the occasional live sports event. But, as the transition to HDTV progresses and content you want watch is available, you can add a box to this TV and start enjoying content in high definition.”
It’s not surprising that consumers today are confused about 3D, given the message is almost identical, “Soon you’ll be able to watch your favorite television shows and movies in 3D, although there’s little content out there right now to watch other than a channel on DirecTV and the occasional live sports event. But, as the transition to 3DTV progresses and content you want watch is available, you can add an emitter and 3D glasses to this TV and start enjoying content in three dimensions.”
The technology pitch is identical, but the reality, however, is there is no “transition to 3D.” With “analog to digital” or “SD to HD,” the content itself (how it’s made and the experience it offers) and how you watch it, isn’t fundamentally different. That’s why everything is better in HD.
We’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t recognize that content produced in 3D is not just not just an enhanced experience of the same content in 2D. If it were, then movies like The Last Airbender and Clash of the Titans would have been improved by the addition of 3D. But they weren’t. It made them worse.
Argue if you will that adding 3D after the fact is different than making it in 3D (which is true), but then also try to come up with an explanation why everything artificially upconverted from SD to HD is better. Sometimes you may not be able to tell the difference, but I’ve never seen a SD to HD conversion that made something look worse.
That alone almost proves why television and movies will never fully “transition to 3D,” at least for the foreseeable future, but there are other factors. For viewers, it takes a conscious effort to watch something in 3D - putting on glasses, extra focus on your eyes, brain processing, etc. It’s hardly a sit back, veg out, and lose-yourself experience. Even the content itself is often a reminder you’re not a part of what you see in front of you, but a viewer wearing a pair of glasses to make things jump out of the screen.
On the production side, they’re learning that it takes effort to make something “good” in 3D. James Cameron did it, but it cost nearly half a billion dollars to do it right. Animation studios like Pixar and Dreamworks have done it repeatedly, but not only can they do it well for far less money, the viewing audience is much more open to a 3D interpretation of a cartoon world than the real one. After all, we don’t have anything to compare 3D in a cartoon to, but we view live action 3D every day.
I hope more and more we see studios end the last-minute 3D conversion process and get more selective about 3D theatrical releases, reserving 3D for those films actually made in 3D to begin with. Unfortunately, that’s doubtful given the premium in ticket sales.
I worry more about the quality of 3D television content when the networks really start experimenting in the format. Once it’s proven something in 3D can attract an audience more than that same program in 2D, prepare for a massive push of converted and poorly produced content to try and grab ratings. That may work for a short while, like how people are flocking to see some poorly made 3D films, but it will backfire eventually.
Reading above, it almost sounds like I don’t believe there are many quality experiences in 3D possible. Untrue. I believe there’s a bright future for 3D in movies (both live action and animated), games and sports, in particular, as well as some kinds of television content. However, I don’t foresee watching things like the local news, CNN, C-SPAN, or The Biggest Loser in three dimensions. It’s not because it isn’t technically possible; it’s because it wouldn’t offer a better experience.
Going forward, the entire pitch for 3D TV needs to change. What everyone needs to understand is that 3D TV is not a fad, nor is it an all-in or fold proposition. 3D capabilities are going to be included in television displays going forward; some models now, many more in the years to come, and eventually all of them. However, unlike the high resolution abilities of modern TVs, which are essentially always on (even if artificially), 3D capabilities will always be a moderately used feature for specific types of content - which is exactly what it should be.
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