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Why Don't We Care About 3-D TV?

Consumer electronics companies are betting big on 3-D television. The 3-D landmark movie Avatar is the highest grossing film of all time, so it's no wonder Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, and Toshiba are aiming to bring that kind of box-office dough to the living room. Yet 3-D TVs haven't caught fire among consumers. Here's why it's the fault of marketers—not manufacturers.

At Best Buy's holiday preview event Tuesday, company heads discussed how 3-D TVs were a surprise disappointment for retailers. "The industry overall had higher expectations for 3-D than what we're seeing now," said Mike Vitelli, Best Buy president, Americas.

Indeed, adoption rates have been low. One recent survey revealed that 83% of respondents didn't consider 3-D TVs important enough to purchase. Having to wear 3-D glasses was a central complaint for consumers.

Best Buy, which has made 3-D TVs a centerpiece of its holiday offerings, doesn't think they're to blame. "It's a marketing problem," says Vitelli. "Both in stores and the way [it's] advertised currently, you get the concept that that's all it can do. It's limiting the consumer awareness and acceptance."

Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn agreed.

"One person said to me, 'Gee, I don't know if I would want a 3-D TV because if you don't have the glasses on, it's cloudy or fuzzy," Dunn said. "The truth is, a 3-D TV is your best 2-D TV as well. The 3-D is just a feature."

This is one message that the ads and promotional material have failed to convey to consumers. Try to think of a single commercial where the actors are not wearing oversize 3-D glasses, and flashy images aren't shown leaping from the screen toward laughing families or Justin Timberlake. You'd never know 3-D TVs work the same way as their 2-D counterparts, or that glasses are not required unless the content viewed is in 3-D.

"Marketing [needs] people to understand that it's a feature, like air conditioning in your car," said Vitelli. "Originally, air conditioning was a high-end feature. Now, it's ubiquitous."

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  • Tom Weaver

    Maybe they should have taken a similar branding strategy to HD - i.e. a kind of 1080p enabled badging system.

  • Ian Bolton

    I think it's safe to say 3D is a limited experience. How many good films are there in 3D? Avatar is the only true 3D film worth watching so far, so why would people spend ridiculous money to watch one film which really is quite boring by the 3rd viewing. Fair enough, you're getting a nice bit of kit, but overall it's the content. Why would I be bothered about watching my favourite film digitally enhanced into 3D when it worked just fine 2D? Star Wars is apparently getting the 3D treatment, but really... who cares?

    I'd say give it a few years and it will all be a waste of time and money.

  • Nate O'Shaughnessey

    the same people that "care" about HD. appearantly hundreds of millions. and generally the people that are willing to part with their money easily.

  • Mark Norman

    @Nate O'Shaughnessey, I agree with what you're saying there. There are always going to be people willing to buy this stuff.

    I'm glad consumers are saying no. We barely have enough HD channels yet, let alone 3D content. And to push these hard in the middle of a recession when people are just figuring out the difference between 720 and 1080p seems like another money grab by Panasonic, Samsung, etc instead of something that is actually exciting to have in your house. You can't put out something new, 2x the cost and expect people to run up with $$$ for it, especially when they just got an HDTV in the last couple years.

  • Nate O'Shaughnessey

    agreed, timing was bad for this launch.
    unfortunately, the R&D lab doesn't get to plan exactly when they will figure some stuff out.

    It will sell now, and eventually more, but I don't want to hear any manufacturers or stores whining when it doesn't happen right away, despite how much they push it.

  • Grge

    I just got 63" 3D TV Samsung and it's awsome. Specially sports are incredible experience in 3D. For most other programs we don't watch 3D as you need to interact with others. Second - there are hardly any 3D specific programs in Australia (other than sports grand finals and some kids DVDs). Although they do great job in converting normal 2D programs to pseudo-3D that we found not worth it. Still prices are going down - we paid roughly $300-500 more for the 3D feature.

  • Nancy

    TV Remote
    HD Remote
    Satellite/Cable Remote
    DVD Remote
    Blu Ray Remote
    Game console remote (since I can stream movies through the system)

    And now you want me to keep track of 3-D glasses???? Are you kidding me?

    I don't think so.

  • Bob Jacobson

    Maybe the problem is that "TV 3D" isn't 3D at all.

    The thing that makes immersion so powerful is our peripheral vision. If you can get a 1/3 wraparound -- if the image subtends 120º -- you will feel that you are in the setting. Also, if you can get sufficiently high resolution -- much higher than conventional or most digital TVs -- the super-realism causes objects to seem right there, right in front of you. You don't need glasses, although surround sound helps maintain the illusion. That's the secret of telepresence as brought to you by Cisco and Tandberg.

    When objects jump off the screen and into your face, it's so artificial that most people don't like the experience. Once the novelty wears off, especially if it requires wearing specs, they're outta there.

    What you are lamenting is an entirely wrong approach to realism and heightened enjoyment of programming that deserves to die, that needs to die to get out of the way of more successful approaches. How come the engineers don't consult the human factors people? Simulator designers have know about these phenomena and studied them (to use a 3D metaphor), up one side and down another.

  • Peter Coffin

    Marketers: have you thought that having a disorienting experience in their living room is perhaps more suited to those more interested in narcotics? Why not work that angle?

  • Jeffery Chapman

    Certain aspect of this conversation are probably mute. After this initial introduction phase, all TVs will have 3D capability and people wont even be in a position to choose. They will just buy a TV. People don't choose to buy HD TVs anymore because that is all you can buy. Its just a TV. Everyone will have 3D TVs and content providers will release 3D content as they wish and users will view it as they wish. Simple as that. Will there be lots of 3D content release and watched in the future. You better believe it - especially in the gaming world. Of course, you will be able to opt out, watch in 2D, and not wear the glasses if you wish.

  • Darryl Clements, Jr.

    3D won't be huge because 1) there's no real interest in the 3D experience every time you watch TV; 2) 3D content won't be the standard and artificial processing won't be something people want; 3) the glasses are a problem on many fronts (cost - can't have a big party to watch games/movies/shows in 3D; people with glasses don't have options; 3D viewing does cause motion-sickness and eye-strain; and different glasses for different makers is just plain ridiculous).

    I think the manufacturing and content providers have missed the obvious - we live in 3D because we have our other senses contributing to the experience. We're just fine with getting our entertainment in 2D because you cannot see, smell, touch, or taste what you take in visually and aurally which makes 3D real. A fast car chase is communicated almost as well in 2D as 3D because neither is going to give you the sense of gravity pulling you into your seat, wind rushing by, or the shake-bump-jostling you get while in a car. Your eyes can play tricks on you for a while, but it won't be something that you'll be interested in as a regular form of entertainment.

  • Nate O'Shaughnessey

    3D is a nice toy, and you can bet they will sell a lot of them.
    Consumers's aren't the value conscious bunch of rational people they're made out to be.

    Many buy things just because they're "cool" regardless of functional value.
    People drop $80k on a car that isn't really much better than a $40k car, it doesn't get you there twice as fast, or last twice as long, or cost half as much over it's life to maintain. If we were all this rational bunch we pretend to be, there would be nobody buying Corvette's, 1100cc sports bikes etc. Not even getting into things like boats, ORV's etc. and this is all just in the vehicle sector.

    Does a $3,000 camera take better pictures than a $300 camera? sure, but 10x better?

    In contrast, 3D tv doesn't really cost that much more than regular tv's of similiar quality.

    I think people will most certainloy buy it, sure, a small percentage, but those are the small percentage that are spending money on high-margin products to begin with.
    It's not going to take over the industry like HDTV, but it will make money, and people are and will buy them. As the article mentioned, it's an additional feature added to existing high end televisions, not a complete evolution.

    People don't all buy for value, they buy things that make them feel better about themselves. This is the latest toy, it'll do for this round.
    Sometimes being a value shopper makes you feel better about yourself... but there are other forces at play inside the buyer's head.

  • Mark Goldstein

    For me I don't perceive the marketing as the problem, but the manufacturer's inflated list and street prices for this feature compared to equivalent non 3-D tvs. The $800-1200 increment is targeted to gouge early adopter IMHO. The incremental cost of manufacturing should be quite low vs. 240 Hz 2-D only LED tvs. If they want more 3-D sales and adoption, they should make the feature relatively "standard" at little or no incrmental cost. Then most replacement sales will be 3-D and often happen sooner for those attracted to the new feature (like me). Sorry, I mostly blame the manufactureres at this point, not the marketing or retailers.

  • Bud Thompson

    HD sets haven't started to wear out. When the time comes to replace the set, those consumers will be open to stepping up to 3D if programming improves.

  • Michael Davis

    I agree that I would rather watch good TV than crap in 3D or HD. Personnally I only watch TV to relax and unwind and wearing glasses to watch TV is not relaxing to me. 3D is a stupied fade just like in the 70's.

  • Jared

    Personally, I'd rather see better programming than a better delivery of bad programming. It might just be me, but 3-D of bad is just turning up the visual volume of poor content.

  • Michael Glowacki

    Here's what they are missing. In a multitasking world, nobody sits down to only watch TV, even so called "event" TV. Think about it, most 3D movies, aside from the special effects, stink - bad plot, bad script, bad acting. Even sports, unless it is a meaningful game, (and I'm a big fan) are difficult to sit and watch for three hours. People have conversations, fire up the laptop to check on line chats, run off to get snacks. Will the cheese puffs look puffier through 3D glasses? Put on glasses, take off glasses, giggle at how goofy each other appears in the glasses.

    One of the big selling points for HDTV was seeing it in sports bars. Who supplies the 3D glasses in a bar.