3D TV: Not Dead Yet, and Getting Better

Sharp 8k TV CES

Though the oft-maligned tech seemed doomed, TV makers are focusing on a glasses-free model

Vizio’s announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show last week that it was dropping 3D support from its future TVs was taken by many as a death knell for 3D television.

But in truth, 3D TV is like the ailing old man in the “Bring out your dead” scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” who protests to the corpse collector, “I’m not dead. … I’m getting better.”

And so it is with 3D TV: It’s not dead, and it is getting better. 3D TVs were actually quite in evidence on the CES floor, though they’re no longer hyped. Several TV makers have concluded that there is no point even trying to promote 3D TV with glasses. They are focusing on autostereo (glasses-free 3D) TV, which continues to improve.

Vizio has moved away from 3D based on glasses and redirected all of its development effort on glasses-free 3D, according to the company’s chief technology officer, Matt McRae.

“Vizio believes consumers enjoy 3D content, but the living room is a very different environment than a movie theater,” he said.

The days when 3D looked like the Next Big Thing are over. Nobody thinks the current generation of 3D TV tech will ever generate enough consumer excitement to trigger a new upgrade cycle — which is what the TV makers want.

“In our opinion, expectations of what the 3D TV experience should be have to be reset, especially with consumers and retailers,” said Nicholas Routhier, president and CEO of Sensio, which offers the 3D GO streaming service. “In its early days, 3D TV was greatly overhyped and there were unreasonable expectations that people would be watching all 3D all the time. Perception being reality, many judged 3D TV as a failure when 3D broadcast did not materialize.”

Routhier believes that for the next few years, 3D television will be about 3D movies, “an every-once-in-a-while premium experience.”

Yet as Shawn DuBravac, chief economist for the Consumer Electronics Assn., noted in his pre-show CES Trends to Watch presentation, consumers may yet embrace 3D TV. “The deployment has been there,” he said. “Now, usage isn’t necessarily there. But again, some of that takes time.

Routhier warns “If nothing changes, 3D TV usage will remain low, not because of lack of interest but rather because of lack of content awareness,” adding many consumers don’t know their TVs are 3D.

Vizio was not alone showcasing autostereo. Sharp had what may have been the most imposing autostereo screen at the show: an 80” prototype using an 8K panel. The extra pixels provide a very sharp image in 3D.

Samsung was showing a prototype autostereo TV using a UHD screen, not as big as Sharp’s but larger than Vizio’s. Dolby (which provides some of the tech Vizio is using) is showing an autostereo TV built on a 4K UHD panel. Hisense showed a 55” autostereo prototype that got good reviews.

LG, the main remaining manufacturer of TVs using passive glasses, hasn’t given up on 3D tech, either.

But the 3DTV market will need time. McRae said Vizio’s autostereo tech is probably a couple of years from being market-ready. The image is still too dark and doesn’t have as much 3D depth as the company would like, and the components need to come down in cost. But McRae said those issues are being taken into account. “Vizio feedback from retailers was very positive, not least because without glasses, 3D TV is much easier to show at retail,” he noted.

Routhier said that since August, 3D GO has come bundled on Vizio’s 3D TVs, and with no special promotion, the attachment rate among Vizio customers has been greater than expected: Around 20% among Vizio TV owners who attach their sets to the Internet.

He envisions the audience eventually branching out beyond movies to other kinds of 3D content, such as sports. “Once we get to that point,” he said, “critical mass will have been reached and 3D will become mainstream.”

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  1. PS says:

    3D at home is great. I like it (more than at the cinema) and my interest is there, but I’m not going to pay twice as much for a 3D BR than what I would have to pay for a 2D BR. When they finally lower the prices for 3D sets (a 3D set should not cost more than 1 $ over the 2D BR), I gladly will buy 3D BRs.

  2. Bob DeVore says:

    I understand the need to keep the interest of consumers to fuel sales. However that said. To use technology from the 1950’s to view 3 D with glasses is a joke! The vast majority of these products can’t even display a standard broadcast accurately without some digital noise or artifact. Until these products can display it on their own it is a waste of time!

  3. Those commenting that 3D is not dead remind me of the laser disc diehards 10 years after its introduction. “Dead”, “going away”, etc. does not require it not being on the TV. PIP was around a long time after people decided they didn’t need it. But it was never the reason most gave for buying a new TV. I expect, but can’t say with certainty, that will be the case for 3D as well, unless some new and very good glasses-free technology comes along (and no, what was at CES is not that.)

    • timoteomcc says:

      I bought a LG 3D 47″ two years ago which uses passive glasses and I love it. The glasses do not bother me at all, as I have worn regular glasses for 45 years. What does bother me is the ripoff prices for 3D movies. I have purchased a number of them in the $15 to $20 range, and a few up to $25, but I will not pay above that and many of them are marketed in the $35 and above range. They can just set on the shelves as far as I am concerned. If they do not lower the prices for them, then they will effectively kill off 3D for sure.

    • JoelR says:

      To be honest, I don’t understand why some people find glasses an issue. With Passive 3D, the glasses are lighter than most sunglasses! (Which many people don’t seem to mind wearing all the time.) And they even have clip-on lenses for those who wear eyeglasses. I’m barely aware I have 3D glasses on when I’m watching. No headaches either. Again, the only issue with 3D is the industry pushing for continued lack-of-awareness. And also pricing. Best Buy has AVENGERS for $35,00. HUGO is $40.00. And THOR for…$50.00!!!! Can you hear the stampede????

  4. johnsciacca says:

    Hey, David. As someone who was actually AT CES and saw all the glasses-free 3D showcased, I’m not sure how you could possibly say it is “getting better.” The auto-stereoscopic displays (save one) all suffered SUCH incredible distortion and artifacting that they were all but unwatchable and had an incredibly narrow viewing “sweet spot.” I posted a write of up all the glasses-free demos that I personally viewed here:

    • timoteomcc says:

      I bought a LG 3D 47″ two years ago which uses passive glasses and I love it. The glasses do not bother me at all, as I have worn regular glasses for 45 years. What does bother me is the ripoff prices for 3D movies. I have purchased a number of them in the $15 to $20 range, and a few up to $25, but I will not pay above that and many of them are marketed in the $35 and above range. They can just set on the shelves as far as I am concerned. If they do not lower the prices for them, then they will effectively kill off 3D for sure.

  5. Jesse Skeen says:

    I’ve loved 3D for a long time and have been glad to see it coming back, but I think the industry’s expectations for 3D TVs were a bit too high. I would not have been able to afford a 3D TV right now, except that the 2D TV I was using was having problems and was a happy accident that I was able to replace it with one with 3D. I’ve been buying all the 3D Blu-Rays I can afford to show my support, good deals can be found on them if you look but many of them are overpriced. Strangely the smaller movies usually only come in one edition that includes 3D, while the bigger titles force you to pay extra for a set that includes it- seems like they should include 3D with EVERY copy if they want it to catch on more! (The situation going on with “Frozen” is extremely frustrating as well, not being sure if Disney is even going to RELEASE it in 3D!)

    Frankly I’m surprised that 3D has done as well as it has in theaters, with them charging a few dollars extra for it. Theater prices were already out of control before the idea of upcharging for 3D came along. If attendance for 3D movies drops it’ll be because of the extra charge, not because people don’t like 3D!

  6. JoelR says:

    The ONLY thing keeping consumers from being more aware of or viewing 3D is the industry itself. Disney, for example, actually tries to hide their 3D releases (OZ TGAP barely even made available. And all pre-orders for the FROZEN 3D Blu-Ray have been cancelled.). Most people don’t even know that 3D movies are available OnDemand from HBO and STARZ. Television ads for newly released films available in 3D don’t even MENTION (not even in the lettering or logo) that they are available in 3D. Not since the laserdisc days have I seen the industry do everything in its power to avoid letting the consumer know that 3D is even an option, much less promote it.

  7. Finally, a sensible article about 3D. Thank you, Mr. Cohen.

    This whole thing about 3D being dead is not only nonsense, but nothing new. It has been stated many times over the last 160 years, by several journalists. And, they were all wrong, as proven by history. Their pronouncements were based on wishful thinking on the part of individuals who wanted for it it just go away. These were essentially what might be described as card-carrying members of the “Flat Imaging Society”, had such an organization existed.

    Why were they against 3D? Several reasons. Certainly, ego played a part. They recognized that it was quite self-inflating to predict the demise of something, and then later gloat over what they surmised was the end of it. Only, before they did that, they should have checked the facts. To state something without citing the source is, at the very least, irresponsible.

    Another factor was potentially economic. Some of these individuals were afraid for their jobs. They knew that they were expected to be experts in all things relating to television, or even imaging in general. They may have been trained in trade schools or other educational facilities that did not prepare them for dealing with this subject. Until very recently, most curricula did not even broach the subject. Being untutored and unprepared, and not knowing where to acquire this instruction, they were often afraid to discuss it, probably rightfully so. However, instead of learning the rudiments of the stereoscopic 3D imagin, they found it much easier to just put down the whole concept of stereoscopic 3D, and anything relating to it.. There were many other reasons, equally as invalid, as well. Let us see why.

    Why is it nonsensical to try to kill off 3D? Stereoscopic vision IS normal human vision. To eliminate it from the imaging process would make no more sense than to eliminate sound and color from the motion picture and television. Yes, we can remove them as well and go back to the early days of the cinema, but why? Why not strive to make the imaging process as natural as possible? Articles have been written about sound and color, as well as 3D, that claimed that they were a distraction from the “story”. It is possible for each of these to distract, but if they do, they are not being correctly implemented. Correctly done, each adds to the experience, and rather than distracting, will allow the observer to concentrate on the story. If it is done right, 3D brings the natural appearance and ambience to the experience, which approaches that of witnessing a live stage play. In some cases, even better, because it still permits all of the cinematic story-telling techniques which we have learned to appreciate.

    It is very unlikely that 3D will die (again!). But, if it does, it will not die a natural death. It will have been willfully murdered. Which has happened before. Many times.

    • Michael says:

      Couldn’t agree more. 3D TV reminds of when stereo records first became popular in the 60s and bands, most notably The Beatles, would record with extreme right/left panning of individual voices and instruments. Todays “stereophonic sound” is more natural and reflective of how we hear with our 2 ears. Likewise the future of 3D TV will evolve to viewing stereo visual images in a less hyped fashion to reflect how we view our surroundings with 2 eyes. The 3D TV fad may be dead, but not the core intent of creating virtual reality.

      • Chris says:

        3D at home is much better than at the theater (RealD). I think the theater (RealD) has ruined it for many people because that is where they see it first (if not only.) Those who were taken in by re-released movies like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King and Finding Nemo probably feel ripped off because those movies all looked terrible in 3D at the theater, but they look fantastic on my Vizio. I managed a theater and I saw every movie for the past 6 years just about, and 90% of them look much better at home.

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