A Contrarian’s View of the 3-D Craze

Bah-Humbug!

Okay, so I’m not generally one to buck industry trends entirely, but I have to say, I’m simply not on this 3-D bandwagon. Since 2008, we’ve been inundated with 3-D as the be-all, end-all of coming AV display trends. At the 2010 Infocomm, you couldn’t swing a swagbag without smacking a 3-D projector, 3-D flat-panel display, or 3-D player for those displays. This week’s CES event headlines are also 3-D heavy: “Tablets, Dual-Core Phones and 3-D Cameras: 2011’s Hottest Gadget Trends” – “What to Expect from CES 2011: Androids, Tablets And 3D TVs” – “How Blu-ray Could Speed Up 3D TV Adoption” – and so on. In fact, 3-D mania has even invaded kids’ games and telephones, with 3-D handheld video game systems and 3-D screen smartphones on sale or on the way to store shelves. It’s everywhere. So why am I bucking the 3-D trend? Well, there are several reasons.

 

Been There, Done That

First of all, 3-D is the “top trend” because, well, it’s trendy. That is to say, it’s the flavor of the week… a fad. The technology isn’t new or groundbreaking. In fact, 3-D has been around since the 1950s. It was ‘an amazing, ground-breaking, realistic technology’ back then… until it went out of style. In the early 1980s, it came back as ‘an amazing, ground-breaking, realistic technology’ with such movies as Jaws 3-D, Amityville 3-D and a host of craptacular sci-fi “epics” like Metalstorm, SpaceHunter and Treasure of the Four Crowns. Now, the rise of Avatar has reintroduced the American moviegoing public to the ‘amazing, ground-breaking, realistic technology’ that is 3-D.

Is the technology truly changed and innovative? Well, obviously we are far more advanced than we were in the 1950s, but in many ways, today’s 3-D is just a shinier, slicker version of classic 3-D. RealD Cinema, one of the most common 3-D theatre formats (in my area, anyways!) is little more than an updated version of the polarization 3-D methods used in most of the films released from 1952-1955. Anaglyph stereography is what most people think of when discussing 3-D – the kind where viewers wear red-blue or amber-blue lens glasses – but it too has existed since the 1950s. And, while eclipse method 3-D is one of the top technologies of today’s new 3-D boom, shuttering lens 3-D glasses existed as early as 1922’s Teleview Stereoscopic Motion Pictures! So much for ground-breaking today, huh?

There is also the issue of content. It is true that the number of 3-D movies released more than quadrupled between 2008 and 2010… but that means the number went from 7 films to 40, according to the MPAA. 40 films… out of how many released worldwide? How many were created in native 3-D and how many were upconverted? How’s that quality on the theatrically-released converted films? And on the non-3-D films that get converted after the fact? Realistically, before spending the time and money on all of this new technology, will there be content available when the trend dies out in Hollywood? (Ask HD-DVD owners about the expense-vs-content issue!)

Dramamine, Anyone?

The next reason I’m not on board with the whole 3-D trend is the fact that, by supporting this technology above regular old video, we risk alienating a sizable portion of our customers! According to optometrists, 5% of people have severe visual disabilities that make viewing 3-D impossible. Up to 12% have some sort of problem with their binocular vision which impacts ability to see 3-D, such as strabismus or amblyopia. Young children’s eyesight is not developed enough to view 3-D for long periods of time without the potential for damage, and people who suffer from motion sickness, epileptics, stroke victims, the elderly, pregnant women and even people who have been drinking are discouraged from use. Just imagine how many people that rules out!

Warnings issued recently by Samsung, Nintendo and Toshiba regarding their new 3-D products point out that even healthy adults can experience illness, fatigue, or a host of side effects that reads like a pharmaceutical commercial: “Side effects can include confusion, nausea, convulsions, altered vision, light-headedness, dizziness, involuntary movements such as eye or muscle twitching and cramps.” Good heavens! As an AV integrator, I don’t want to have to put black-box warnings on all of my racks.

3-D: It’s Hype-tastic!

Last, but by no means least, I’m not on the 3-D bandwagon because of my old high school debate coach. What? Let me explain. Back when AVDawn was just SchoolgirlDawn, I was a fairly wicked speech-and-debate competitor. My specialty was Original Oratory – Informative or Persuasive speeches written and delivered on the topic of my choice. Then (as now) I would take a topic that tickled my fancy and just run with it. One day, Mrs. O’Halloran took me aside and said, “Look, that’s a good speech but why do I care? There’s a big difference between ‘neat to know’ and ‘need to know.’ Your topic is the former. Go find the latter and bring me a speech on that.” I did, and I placed at the state championships that year, and I learned a lesson that can be applied to our customers’ systems as well.

Is 3-D a technology that our customers NEED to own and use? Or is it simply one that is NEAT to own and use? For most of my Pro-AV customers, the answer is the latter. It would be neat to have 3-D projectors in a board room or operations center, but it simply isn’t necessary. Given the nature of many things displayed in a commercial environment, it may even be worse than unnecessary – it could be detrimental. Imagine how a Powerpoint presentation would look, upconverted to 3-D… or a spreadsheet. A standard web page… or a camera feed. Ugh.

Now, there *is* a place for 3-D. It is a GOD-SEND for modeling, for simulation, for education. Government, military, healthcare and education clients will all benefit greatly from integrating this technology into their facilities. However, they won’t want EVERY projector or flat-panel to be 3-D… only those in the simulation or modeling classrooms and labs. For the board room, the regular old 2-D displays will not be easily replaced.

Now, I don’t generally play in the Resi market. 3-D may be better positioned there for growth over the next few years. After all, many times, resi is ALL ABOUT the “neat to have” – especially if the homeowner is a big video gamer. So, I could be dead wrong on the downfall of 3-D on that count. Of course, in his 2011 predictions, Gary Kayye foresees the downfall of Home Theatre 3-D in most cases. Who knows? But I will say this, unless you are selling AV to a very specific market (gamers or those listed in the last paragraph), I can’t imagine the 3-D Craze lasting.

One Last Thing…

There is one caveat to all of this speculation. At the moment, every 3-D display or device I’ve seen at Infocomm or the Almo 4E AV Tour has been 3-D only and required upconverting non-3-D sources for display. If manufacturers got smart, they’d develop a 3-D display that had an on-off setting to function as a regular unit or a 3-D unit. This is how the new Nintendo 3DS works for handheld gaming, but it may not be practical for larger, non-lenticular 3-D displays. Still, it could solve a lot of issues that could ultimately destroy 3-D’s viability in the market place. Manufacturers, are you listening?

 

4 comments

  1. George Tucker says:

    Excellent Post! I wrote a similar post for a Dealer's Newsletter -(which I can publish after he sends it out). Could it be that the contrarian view is actually trending to the populist meme?

  2. Daniel says:

    You have a great point about how old 3D is, in fact it is even older than you say, remember those stereographic cards in our grandmother's basements? I also agree that 3D will come and go in waves in the theaters, I really hope people will get tired of the novelty soon and only films that really “need” 3D to have the same impact (like Avatar) will be produced and shown that way.

    One thing that you don’t really mention is 3D for gaming, I have no doubts that is here to stay. With the processing power available on gaming consoles and PCs now they can create amazing 3D views of the 3D environments that are being modeled. And if teens (and adults much more now as well) burning their retinas out and wearing chat headsets for hours on end already, it is not so much of a stretch for them to add a pair of shutter glasses to that. And what better way to immerse yourself in the fantasy world or combat arena than having it in 3D?

    I think what will become prevalent in the commercial AV world will be “3D enabled” or “3D capable” systems. DLP projectors are inherently capable of the refresh rate to display 3D with shutter glasses, all the manufacturer has to do is put the other electronics in to decode and display it. Also with higher bandwidth transports like HDMI 1.4 and DisplayPort it would be possible to have a system that is capable of displaying 3D whenever someone supplies the content (and glasses). I wouldn’t be surprised if this feature becomes as common on projectors (and flat panels) as an RJ45 jack is now.

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