3D TV Prospects An Optical Illusion?
We know why TV manufacturers want 3D: according to Forrester Research, nearly half of American homes now own some sort of high-definition Television (HDTV) set. Manufacturers want the next big thing - 3D TV - to capture the public's attention and push retail sales. But is this a realistic prospect or just a Holodeck illusion?
First of all, 3D is not new technology; the Stereoscope introduced 3D photography in 1844. Attempts to use three dimensions in cinema (with the funky glasses) began in the 1950's. IMAX brought 3D back for another run, featuring spectacular images; but nonetheless, had its stock rated "B-" by S&P in November due to "the modest size of the company's niche market" relative to the debts it incurred reaching its current position. Consequently, the current push represents the third incarnation of 3D technology in modern entertainment. What makes this time different?
Certainly, Sony's interest in pushing 3D TV technology is obvious: Sony believes the Playstation 3 can deliver 3D output to a Sony 3D TV, keeping the next phase of high-definition within the "family." What's less certain is that customers are interested.
Let's turn that home penetration statistic on its head: how many consumers who bought an HDTV - particularly a large, home theater quality HDTV - want to switch to 3D, paying more thousands of dollars for the privilege? Currently, the 1 million units shipped in 2009 constitutes less than 1% of all TVs sold that year. Even spectacular growth, percentage-wise, will be climbing up against the hill that the TV manufacturers themselves built. Finally, it's HDTV that was necessary for full enjoyment of digital broadcasting.
While 3D TV may still be ahead of its time in terms of the marketplace, we are certainly bearing witness to a fresh wave of technology. We also find ourselves living in the era of Avatar, a blockbuster film bringing 3D to the masses.
So what about the experience? According to first-hand reports, the 3D experience is a powerful one indeed - if you're wearing the funky glasses. To enjoy the experience without the glasses, you'll need to wait about ten years. 3D TV also requires a unified format and lower content production costs. These are stiff challenges for manufacturers to overcome.