Is 3D Still a Thing?

At CES and CEDIA this year, 3D seemed to be lost in the crowded world of hyping The Next Big Thing – aka 4K – and the other typical video hoopla announcements (Bigger! Brighter! Thinner! Contrast-ier!) At CEDIA, I believe I only saw one demo – Epson – exclusively touting 3D. Clearly, the three-pronged assault on the optic nerve seems to have largely blown over and today, 3D really seems like just another features * on the side of the box, next to 6 HDMI outputs, a retina-searing contrast rating, and Web streaming capabilities.
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“Penny: Um, okay. Tell Bernadette to tell Priya that I’m on my way to Prague to shoot a movie with Angelina Jolie.

Amy: Got it. Is it going to be in 3-D?

Penny: What? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.

Amy: I’m gonna say 3-D. That’ll let her know the studio has faith in it.”


--The Big Bang Theory, “The Wildebeest Implementation”

A couple of years ago you couldn’t walk two steps in any direction at a tradeshow without stumbling across some video company’s latest foray into 3D.

“Bigger!”

“Cheaper!”

“Brighter!”

“More 3D-ier!”

“Active!”

“Passive!”

“More comfortable glasses!”

“No glasses!”

“Less makes-you-want-to-blind-yourself-ey!”

But, at CES and CEDIA this year, 3D seemed to be lost in the crowded world of hyping The Next Big Thing – aka 4K – and the other typical video hoopla announcements (Bigger! Brighter! Thinner! Contrast-ier!) At CEDIA, I believe I only saw one demo – Epson – exclusively touting 3D. Clearly, the three-pronged assault on the optic nerve seems to have largely blown over and today, 3D really seems like just another features * on the side of the box, next to 6 HDMI outputs, a retina-searing contrast rating, and Web streaming capabilities.

I’ve been pretty clear in my distaste for 3D from the start. I couldn’t have made my feelings any plainer than with my, “3D, I still pretty much hate you” blog post.

But there’s been a lot of recent news out that pretty much confirms my anecdotal findings and personal feelings that consumers really don’t give a D when it comes to 3D. There’s a great post by Ted Green from strata-GEE.com dissecting the JD Power Associates survey that says “3D is dead as a sales motivator” and another over at Time’s Techland titled “3D TV is no hit with viewers” that claims “3-D audiences are so small they can’t be measured by Nielsen’s rating system” and a third at Crave that quotes a Sony exec as saying that 3D is "not hugely important at this time."

This definitely mirrors my personal experiences with 3D from the sales and installation side. Some people ask about it as more of a curiosity or to check of an item on their “features it should have” list, but in practice, 3D seems to be more of a gimmick that is used for a bit at first and then discarded in favor of regular, 2D HD viewing. In a way, 3D kind of reminds me of the Church and Super Stadium DSP modes that used to be so popular on AV receiver. Sure, for the first few times friends came over you were all, “Hey, want to hear what U2 would sound like if they were playing in a giant, super echo-ey stadium? Check this out! Oh, and here’s AC/DC…IN A CHURCH! Mind blown, right?! Oh! And you want to hear Desmond Tutu sound like a robot?” Then you’d just turn it off and enjoy plain stereo.

The typical response to inviting someone to view a 3D demo generally hovers between “I’m not interested” and “I’ve seen it already” or – after a few moments of viewing – “OK, I’ve seen enough. Here...” (carefully handing back the glasses as if they were holding a particularly virulent and aggressive species of scorpion.)

I visited a Best Buy the other day, and no one so much as approached the multi-TV 3D kiosk they had on display while I was there.

The forced, blitzkrieg roll-out of 3D TV by manufacturers was really a textbook example of, “We need something new to make people want to buy a new TV. What haven’t we tried yet?!”

I’m sitting here trying to think what the biggest problem with 3D’s adoption is, and I’m torn. There’s the very real viewing discomfort that some people – myself included – experience with active 3D systems. The rapid on-off switching of the lenses making the brain feel like it’s trying to tear itself in twain. Then there’s the glasses which are not only annoying, but force an “active viewing” that most people at home rarely do. Think about how often you are checking a laptop or tablet, glancing at a book or magazine, balancing a checkbook, looking down to eat/drink something, all of which becomes more difficult/impossible with the glasses on. Of course, the continued lack of good content isn’t helping. I don’t care what a directorial powerhouse “Piranha 3DD” is or how many DD’s pop out in 3D, people aren’t gonna buy TVs because of it. Even a few years into launch, the selection of titles available is still anemic and the TV buying public is not shelling out $1000-plus bucks so their kids* can watch the latest animated title in 3D.

(* Warning: 3D might blind and/or retard the development of your children.)

What 3D needs to do is to find and embrace its killer app. In reality, this is probably really gaming – gamers are fully engrossed in what they’re doing so the glasses should be less of an issue and they are already into all manner of peripherals (joysticks, controllers, headsets) so anything that provides an additional layer to the immersive experience would be a huge plus.

But gamers aren’t Big TVs mass market, and for the larger, big dollar score, that killer app will likely be sports. All of the sports coverage I’ve seen in 3D pretty much rocks. And I’m even including soccer here. Seriously, I watched about two minutes of soccer in 3D which is a full 116 seconds of soccer more than I’d usually endure. Sports are typically bright and colorful, things that work really well with 3D. Sports naturally benefit from the extra depth of 3D adding to the action and sense of “you are there”-ness. Sports also appeal to men, the people that typically make the “big TV buying” decision.

The big TV manufacturers should pool their monies and collectively promote the holy crap out of big 3D sporting events and make sure that every cable and satellite provider is on the trolley with it. They should make it impossible for you to even turn on your TV without making viewers writhe in insane lack of 3D jealously and feelings of massive inadequacy whenever a major baseball, football, basketball or golf event is taking place. “Watch it in 3D!” should be a tagline pummeled into the deepest, most primal cortex recesses of every sports viewer in America. “Inadequacy” and “fear of missing out” being great motivators.

I will say, my stone-like heart has softened a bit to 3D. Softened to the point that I *would* actually like my next projector/display to be 3D capable. (Fortunately, it has become a de facto feature to the point that you’d actually have a more difficult time finding a decent model that DIDN’T include 3D.) There are events – cough The Masters cough – that I could see really wanting to watch in 3D. Well, for a bit at least.

What say you? To 3D or not to 3D…that is the question.

John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.

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