Why 2010 isn't the year for 3D in the home

Tipping point for 3D TV more likely to be 2012, say experts


It's easy to get caught up in the excitement surrounding 3D TV.

DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg proclaimed that: "2010 will be the year in which 3D is brought to the home." Stephen Gater, LG's Head of Marketing for Home Entertainment said: "we're witnessing the start of dramatic change in how we view TV."

While a bullish Samsung laid out its plans at CES. "Just as we created the LED market last year, we will lead the industry in the 3D market this year," boasted its US president Tim Baxter.

Although 3D telly prototypes have been knocking around at tech shows for the past few years, 2010 is being hailed as the year that the resurrected format finally becomes a commercial reality. And this time it will be more than a gimmick with cardboard red/cyan glasses.

2010 will be the year of the first Blu-ray 3D disc, the first commercially available '3D Ready' TVs, and the UK's first dedicated 3D TV channel from Sky.

No brainer?

So we'll have 3D-capable hardware and 3D content to watch on it. But do all these firsts really mark a tipping point for 3D TV and herald a bold new era of bespectacled home entertainment?

2009 was certainly a pivotal year for 3D cinema. Films such as Coraline, My Bloody Valentine and Up all played to packed crowds happily to wear thick-rimmed polarised glasses.

But it's James Cameron's Avatar that's become the poster child for the 3D revolution. The sci-fi spectacular has clawed in over $1.86 billion dollars at the global box office. Hollywood has subsequently embraced 3D.


3D MOVIES HERE TO STAY: James Cameron's Avatar has pushed 3D cinema into the mainstream

Over 50 3D films are due for release in the next few years and many more will be re-released in a new 3D version. Bringing the 3D experience into your living room seems like a no-brainer.

2012 "more likely"

But when you look closer it seems ambitious to suggest that 2010 will be the 'year of 3D TV'.

Although the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) guesstimates that 2.2 million 3D-capable TV sets will be sold this year, Sony Electronics' chief marketing officer Mike Fasulo pegs 2012 as a more likely timeframe for mass market 3D adoption.

Futuresource Consulting has predicted that 45 per cent of US homes will have a 3D TV by 2014 and DisplaySearch forecasts that consumers will spend $17 billion on 3D TVs by 2018.

Consider how long it has already taken HD to gain a foothold in the UK telly market. The satellite broadcaster Euro1080 launched Europe's first dedicated HD channel (HD1) back in 2004. Sky launched its own HD service two years later.

Yet by the start of 2010, Sky HD subscriptions have only just surpassed two million households. While that's a good built-in audience for Sky's forthcoming 3D channel, how many of these subscribers will want to splash out on a new 3D-ready HD TV so they can watch it?

One of the biggest sticking points to rapid 3D adoption is price. If you've just bought an HD TV, you're unlikely to buy another one just to watch a smattering of 3D TV content. On his blog, Forrester analyst James McQuivey puts things neatly into perspective.

HD vs 3d

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"Between 2007 and 2009, over 40 million HD TVs were sold in the US," he explains, "most of them close to or below $1,000... Now we're going to ask those same people to spend between $2,000 and $4,000 to get a good 3D TV set with just two sets of active shutter glasses? Sorry, the credit card is going to stay in the wallet for this one."

Content the key - as ever

Another potential pitfall is 3D content. Not the availability of the content per se. But our attitude to it. For example, Sky recently showed the Arsenal vs Manchester United Premiership clash on 3D TVs in selected pubs across the UK. Eight rigs with 16 cameras captured all of the action at the Emirates. What impressed most?

According to Darren Long, Sky Sports' director of operations: "sport is all about emotion, and seeing it in 3D adds to the experience." But according to Dublin football fan John Cormican: "the best bit was when the players came out of the tunnel – it was amazing, they looked like they were running right past you."

3D football

GRAY AND KEYS: Sky's 3D football demo was considered a success, although only the low camera angles were most effective

As The Guardian points out in the same piece: "if you love football, the technology is irrelevant." The gimmicky approach to 3D is another problem. Movie plotting has often suffered under a deluge of special effects. Hello, Star Wars prequels. We're looking at you.

There's a danger that the craze for using 3D technology could also detract from the core elements of a good film – storytelling, believable characterisation and emotional engagement. For example, the #1-rated movie on IMDb is The Shawshank Redemption. Would filming it in 3D have made it any better? Would you enjoy it even more if it was converted to 3D by a Toshiba Cell TV? Just because you can add an extra dimension doesn't mean that you should.

Of course, 3D is already out of date in Korea, where 4D movie showings are all the rage. According to Variety.com, "the 4D screening [of Avatar] uses more than 30 effects during the 3D film's 162 minute run, including moving seats, smells of explosives, sprinkling water, laser lights and wind." Let's see Sony try and transfer that experience into your living room.

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