3D Television Touted at CES 2010

With the annual edition of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas almost upon us, marketers are working diligently to engender consumer interest in a range of new products and technologies. Their job is to make you want things you don’t really need.

3D televisions are getting a big push. I’ve worked in 3D-visualization technology, so I feel qualified to offer an opinion, learned or otherwise.

For 3D television sets to succeed commercially, content must be widely and readily available, the devices themselves should not inconvenience consumers, and the prices of the sets should not be prohibitive.

Sony says 2012 will be year of 3D television, and it might be right. Even then, I wonder whether enough content will be available for delivery to consumers. More to the point, I question whether consumers will want to make the compromise of wearing specialized goggles to enjoy the 3D experience. For me, that is the litmus test. It’s why I believe 3D television, at least in its first incarnation, will fail to make the commercial grade.

When people flock to a cinema to see a 3D movie, they go for the big-screen spectacle. They’re willing to pay to enter that dark cathedral, to don their 3D glasses, and to settle into plush seats alongside other congregants for approximately two hours of immersive entertainment. Then, at the end of the movie, they take off the 3D eyewear, leave the theater, and return to the real world.

A lot of research into 3D home entertainment has been done by cable companies, satellite broadcasters, and television networks. They’ve all looked into the tolerance level of consumers for 3D glasses. What they’ve found, for the most part, is that consumers are willing to wear the glasses at movie theaters, but are disinclined to wear them in their own homes.

That’s because of the disparity between the cinema experience and the home-viewing experience. People bring a different set of attitudes expectations to the theater than they bring to their own living rooms. What they’ll accept at the cinema, where they get a larger-than-life entertainment experience for a limited period of time, is different from what they’re willing to tolerate in their own homes.

Besides, consumers behave differently while watching television. For the most part, filmgoers give their undivided attention to what;’s on the big screen. (Yes, we all have been in the same theater with rude talkers and senseless jabberers, but those cretins belong to a small minority of the audience, thankfully.) Television viewing tends to be more episodic, less focused. Your attention is diverted occasionally from the television set to other things in your home. During a commercial break, for example, you might walk to the kitchen or to the washroom, or you might take or make a phone call.

Given how you watch television and how you live within your home, would you be wiling to wear 3D glasses for extended periods? Ubergeeks among you might say yes, but most of you would be reluctant to make the sacrifice. That’s why ubergeeks are the earliest of early adopters, and why everybody else isn’t.

Consequently, we won’t see widespread adoption of 3D televisions until they can be viewed autostereoscopically (without glasses). That will take a few years. Autostereoscopic technology needs to improve, and standards for it need to coalesce. Effective and simple means of converting stereoscopic (requiring glasses) cinematic 3D content into autostereoscopic formats must be brought to market, too.

None of those challenges is insurmountable, but each will take time. The glasses-based 3D-television products on the market today are necessary precursors for their glasses-free successors of the future.

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