Designed by Jason Black

3D Video: Too Big to Fail

Two days. Two days until I see Star Wars in 3D. Have I seen this movie 7 times already? Yes. Can I quote Qui-Gon Jinn’s final words? You bet. Is 3D my main motivation? Not really. While 3D movies add a new layer to the movie experience, that transformational spread into mainstream media faces an uphill climb. The 3D experience remains unrefined. 3D’s still suffers from the technological requirement of 3D glasses, poor artistic uses of 3D, and limited distribution of 3D movies. The chances of widespread 3D home entertainment within the next couple of years remain doubtful. Yet the switch to 3D is inevitable; with more technological improvements, along with the backing of all television distributors, mainstream 3D will one day rule home media.

In 2009, James Cameron, Canadian American filmmaker famous for titles such as Titanic and Avatar, predicted “100% adoption of [3D] technology in cinemas within three to five years,” but recent trends suggest that 2D is far from dead. 3D movie production is expected to drop by at least 25% in 2012. Many of the remaining movies will be reproductions of classics like Star Wars.

Home entertainment isn’t likely to fair much better either given the current setup. The whole experience is ridden with annoyances, among the worst perpetrators being 3D glasses. Although the red-blue glasses have been replaced by active shutter glasses, the underlying concept hasn’t changed, and neither has the inconvenience. What’s more, people who regularly wear prescription glasses must find a way to wear two pairs of glasses—their own corrective pair and the 3D pair —making 3D viewing uncomfortable. To make matters worse, approximately 4-10% of population find viewing 3D impossible according to Rafe Needleman of CNET.com. Thus in a group of seven friends, there is more than 50% that one member will not be able to see 3D. That’s all before you even turn on the TV only to find a limited selection of 3D content.

Regardless of its current setbacks, 3D entertainment isn’t exiting the market anytime soon. For better or worse, the sheer number of man-hours that large TV companies have put into the technology ensures that it will not wither away. Just like Detroit in the mid-20th century shaped American tastes by only manufacturing large cars, TV companies will be begin to devote more products to 3D TVs, until the only new TV is a 3D TV. Every company from Samsung to Vizio already has 3D TVs in development or on the shelves. Suppliers are saturating the television market. In doing so, 3D TVs will derive its growth not from consumers, but from suppliers.

Now suppliers have effectively forced their own hand. Having invested hundreds of millions of dollars, TV companies cannot turn back from 3D TV or the problems in the technology. A major transformation needs to corrects today’s problems for tomorrow’s profits. This increased pressure has prompted more rigorous research and development to address 3D’s shortcomings. Solutions such as glasses free TV are currently in the pipelines, but 3D still has plenty of hurdles to overcome before it achieves ubiquity.

The consumer transformation to 3D ready TV, though, has already begun. Most high end TVs sold today are already capable of 3D output. And while selling 3D TVs is a far cry from selling consumers on 3D TV, the market saturation is unlikely to dwindle. In the long run, it might not be a bad strategy. By the time manufacturers and media corporations make the transition to 3D as seamlessly convenient for consumers to enjoy 3D with friends and family, as it currently is for 2D TV,  3D TVs will already be in households across the world. Only then will consumer demand be enough to justify the disproportionate supply of 3D TVs that we see today.