3DTVs Now and Later

The first wave of 3DTV buying enthusiasm, if there was one, appears to have passed. It was more of a swell than a wave. Prices for some 3DTV sets had dropped nearly a third by mid-summer, just four months after reaching the U.S. market. Amazon is bundling LG models with 3D Blu-ray players, a movie and two pairs of shutter glasses. Sony is throwing in movies, PS3 games, the glasses and a Blu-ray home theater.

What’s next, one wonders. Recalled Toyotas and shares of General Electric, perhaps?

Consumer electronics manufactures conjured up the 3DTV-as-device to replace flagging sales of stuff everyone has. The miscellaneous drawer will hold only so many digital cameras. We’re still making payments on those huge flat-panel HDTVs. Apple cut in front of the disposable income line with the iPad and now the new iPhone.

I have three cell phones lying on my desk right now. None do what I really want a cell phone to do: Maintain a network connection; hold a charge for a single conversation; and vibrate in Morse code so I don’t have to look at it to know who’s texting what. I never meant to buy an iPhone, either, but I met someone on unemployment who managed to buy one for her kid’s birthday present. One can interpret that as a point against entitlements, or in favor of trickle-down-into-Steve-Job’s-pocket economics.

Either way, Apple’s stock is up nearly $40 year-to-date. Other consumer electronics makers—not so much. Steve is not making 3DTV sets. He makes a soap-sized piece of gear nearly everyone has, but replaces every 12 months or so. The replacement rate is several years for TV sets and the average U.S. household al-ready has more than two. Even with 3DTV set prices collapsing, comparable HDTVs are hundreds of dollars cheaper. Unemployment checks only go so far.

This is merely the beginning of 3DTV, and as much as we may grumble, it’s just a trend. It’s likely one leading to even more advanced video display technolo-gies. No one’s walking around today talking on a shoebox-sized mobile phone sprouting a two-foot antenna, or buying HDTVs that have to be fork-lifted into the living room.

The 3DTVs we’re seeing now are more likely the leading edge of laser-based, flexible, organic, holographic and dynamic displays not yet imagined. These early 3DTVs will be quaint in a few years, just like some of those first HD displays are now. The development curve will progress more rapidly, however, and consumers are savvy to that. Those factors will increasingly cut into the type of broad adoption waves upon which the consumer-electronics industry has come to depend. That means the next wave of TV adoption won’t be based on a format, but rather a brand.

Which one remains to be seen—in 3D or otherwise.