Has there ever
been a tech
than 3DTV? If there is,
please let me know.
Despite all the hype
over the past couple
years, 3DTV has quickly
become the “Rodney
Dangerfield” of television
technology. Mention the format at any
industry conference and watch the eyes
quickly glaze over. “Nobody’s wants it,”
“Glasses are too clunky,” are usually among
the responses you’ll get.
It wasn’t that way just a few short years
ago. At the height of the 3DTV hype in 2010,
it was THE buzzword of the NAB Show as
vendors attempted to demonstrate their
commitment to making the format “the
next great entertainment platform,” to quote
one exhibitor. New 3D channels from ESPN,
Comcast and Cablevision’s MSG network
were launched while Sony teamed with
Discovery and IMAX to launch the 24-hour
channel “3net”; Panasonic and DirecTV
joined forces to launch similar ventures. A
number of pay-TV providers set aside channels
to carry these 3DTV networks.
The format made its biggest impression
in high-profile live sporting events including
the Olympics, Super Bowl, March Madness,
NASCAR, Wimbledon, etc. And then
there were the head scratchers, including
a 3D transmission of Queen Elizabeth’s
Christmas address in 2012. Programmers
also smartly aimed their 3D cameras at another
natural 3D landscape: nature documentaries.
Efforts by similar broadcasters
overseas including BSkyB and the BBC in
the U.K. haven’t seen much success either.
Perhaps smarting from their experience
with HD when lack of content was the
prime culprit for a sluggish rate of adoption,
it seemed that programmers and consumer
electronics manufacturers tried to
provide a balance of 3DTV programming
with consumer demand for the sets. But
for the most part, consumers have reacted
with a collective yawn to the format with
complaints that are all too familiar to us
now: not enough content and the glasses
With 4K all the rage, 3DTV seems to be
in danger of being left behind. And even
some earlier proponents of the format
have turned against it. Last month, the BBC
reported that ratings decrease with the
airing of every 3D broadcast now and has
threatened its future on the world’s largest
broadcast stage. “I don’t think we will
see a 3D channel launch at all on the BBC,”
one network official said at a conference,
according to the website 3dfocus.co.uk.
|Has 3DTV used up all its lives?
Speaking at another London conference
around the same time, Bob Zitter, retiring
CTO at HBO, said “3D with glasses is ‘dead.’”
“We never thought that 3D with glasses was
ever going to get off the ground,” Zitter added, according to Rapid TV News. (Zitter also
expressed similar skepticism with 4K).
Manufacturers haven’t had much success
with the format either. Marco Lopez,
the new president of Miranda, which was
one of the earliest proponents of the format,
was skeptical about demand among
its broadcast customers. “It really hasn’t
taken off,” he told TV Technology.
What killed it off? Was it the lack of marketing?
The clunky glasses? Expensive sets?
Probably a combination of all three plus
more, including what could be 3DTV’s biggest
weakness: the inability of more than a
few TV fans being able to watch the same
3D program in the same room. When it
came to the social aspects of television,
3DTV can be a bit of a buzzkill.
Not all hope is lost, however. Proponents
such as James Cameron and Vince Pace continue
to push forward with their innovative
3D production technology, although they’re
likely to get better reception on the film
side than television. There are reportedly
more than 25 million 3DTV sets in American
homes, according to 3net, which just
celebrated its second anniversary in February
by reporting that the channel was now
available in more than 40 million U.S. homes.
SMPTE continues to study and advocate the
format, and while Peter Lude, the organization’s
liaison for 3D, agrees that the format
hasn’t taken off as well as expected, he believes
there’s still a future for it in OTT. And
it will also have a role in ATSC 3.0 as well.
But for now at least, 3D, a format with
a rich, 100-plus year history, is a no-show