Last week, in complaining about needlessly skinny televisions, I pointed out that 3-D televisions–which were supposedly the great frontier in TV tech a year or two ago–have not turned out to be such a hit. (Only 1.1 million 3-D TVs sold in 2010; one analyst puts 3-D TV penetration at just about 3% in the U.S.) Wired’s Christina Bonnington has a thorough report looking at just why it is that 3-D TV failed to be television’s savior.
For me, the reason 3-D TV would fail always seemed simple enough: 3-D as a whole seemed to me like a resurgent fad, but one that would inevitably fade away as the hype subsided. The reality is somewhat (though only somewhat!) more complicated.
The initial hype for 3-D content was justified, arguably, because the first crop of 3-D movies, like Avatar, were legitimately impressive. Unfortunately, though, whereas a company like Pixar has consistently turned out high quality films, Avatar spawned a range of copycat 3-D films that didn’t pass muster.
Other factors, again fairly predictable ones, are price and comfort. Prices have been dropping–even back in 2012, Panasonic slashed prices in half to drive U.S. adoption–but are still well above those of a normal TV. And as for comfort, I have always found watching 3-D movies a disorienting and vaguely migraine-inducing experience, and it turns out that many other people do, too. Indeed, some optical researchers have even pointed to scientific reasons why 3-D seasickness is not just some imaginary phenomenon. Lo and behold, people don’t like to feel ill when watching television.
There is a glimmer of hope–or of disappointment, depending on your perspective–in the realm of 3-D TVs. It is early days yet for the market: “To be fair, 3-D TVs have only been available for sale in a significant way for about 18 months, so that’s why the penetration is so low,” one analyst tells Wired. Additional 3-D TVs are sure to debut at CES this week, and PC Mag is encouraging its readers to buy the technology. A few studies show that consumers are beginning to come around the 3-D, including a report from the Digital Entertainment Group that says that by and large, those who purchase 3-D TVs do wind up liking them.
Still, if the industry really wants 3-D to become the new standard it seemed to think it would be two years ago, three problems need to be solved: price, content, and most of all, for the likes of me, free doses of Dramamine with each set.