The statistics on 3D TV purchasing and actual use vary greatly, it seems, based who asked the questions and what they actually asked. But it seems pretty clear that the 3D market did not quite live up to the potential (hype is probably a better word) that last year’s Consumer Electronics Show forecast.
So heading into the Consumer Electronics Show next week has me thinking, obviously, about what 2012 will bring to 3D (or what 3D will bring to 2012). But first, I need to make clear: I’m not anti-3D. In fact I like the format’s potential quite a bit. A 3D movie (or whatever) can be loads of fun. I just think the whole paradigm can be better. With that simple setup, here’s my list of what I believe needs to happen in the home 3D market next week and the rest of the year:
1) Cheaper glasses. We made some headway on this front in 2011. The introduction of FPR, or passive glasses TVs, was definitely welcome. Last year passive TVs made up about 12 percent of the market (according to NPD via 3D@Home). Unfortunately, as has been noted on this site several times, it has some flaws, namely resolution loss. That is likely to be addressed by the new 4K passive TVs (like the LG TV already announced), but if those TVs are unreasonably-priced, then consumers won’t care. Active shutter glasses have gotten cheaper—especially if you lucked into one of the bundled offers—but not when you’re buying for a whole family.
2) Glasses need a real standard. Why this hasn’t happened already is mind-boggling. If you bought a 3D TV in 2010, you were really stuck, but it didn’t get much better in 2011. Sure CEA and some manufactures agreed on a limited standard, but that standard didn’t include all the communication technologies used by various TV manufactures. And just try to go into most any electronics store and buy a set of 3D glasses from a 3rd party maker that is going to work with most TVs. The situation has gotten much better, but it needs to get even better. I can buy any variety of headphones, and they’ll all fit my iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. 3D glasses should be that easy.
3) Dump the glasses. In some 3D TV reviews I’ve done this year, I’ve noted that the glasses were light and not completely uncomfortable. They’re still dumb and ugly. I don’t care how fashionable they are, I still don’t want to put on shades just to watch a movie in my own living room, and much less so to watch a TV sitcom or drama (sports do not happen in my house, so that’s not an issue). Toshiba and others will likely show, again, glasses-free (autostereoscopic is a word you should only use when there’s a visible escape route) 3D TVs, but until I see one that creates a 3D picture that looks as good as a non-3D picture, I’m not interested. Will this happen at CES? I hope.
4) Wider viewing angles. 3M did a study recently on how important consumers thought viewing angle was when watching TV. Big surprise—they think it’s important. While that particular study didn’t cover 3D, the issue is much more important for that format because off-angle viewing can destroy the 3D effect. Autostereoscopic may make this even worse because that technology requires people to be in a limited number of specific viewing locations. In a home theater, where the seating is all focused on the screen, this isn’t a big deal, but in an average living room (like mine) sofas and chairs are scattered all around.
5) Content. Did anyone notice that the 2011 3D offers were mostly pretty dismal? Only a few of the year’s top movies were shown in theaters in 3D, which means the 2012 3D Blu-ray offerings are not looking all that good. If you went out and bought The Smufs 3D, then you really need to make some new friends. Most of the 3D material is either children’s content (Smurfs, Pandas, etc.), action/adventure (Harry Potter, Captain America, Conan), or just dumb (Harold and Kumar, Glee). So what about the rest of the movie-watching public? There about 90 3D Blu-ray movies released in 2011 (according to Blu-ray.com). I was interested in about three of them. There are about 35 3D movies planned to be released in theaters this year. Guess how many of them are kids’ movies or movies that involving things blowing up?
6) 3D TV Programs. Even if you like the really awful 3D movies being released now, and don’t mind paying the premium for that awfulness, that’s still probably a small percent of what you use your TV for. My family watches movies on disc about twice a week. Your family may watch more than that, but I’ll bet most of your time is watching regular old-fashioned programs off your DVR. How many of those are in 3D? None. Sure, there are some exceptions, some sports and oddball things, but would I watch Walking Dead or American Horror Stories in 3D? You bet. Would my kids watch whatever dancing/singing/failing reality contest they watch in 3D? Yes. Where’s the 3D TV programming? Could I use a TV’s built-in 2D-3D conversion? No—if the program wasn’t created for 3D, no fake conversion process is going to be worth the time. That’s worse than colorizing It’s a Wonderful Life.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.