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3-D TV Is Dead Again. Will Ultra HD Thrive Instead?

With support drying up for 3-D TV and moving on to Ultra HD, did 3-D ever really have a chance?

3-D TV Is Dead Again. Will Ultra HD Thrive Instead?
[Image: Flickr user Matt Neale]

The 3-D TV craze is dying. With top television maker Vizio’s recent announcement that it will discontinue support for the technology, and last year’s decision from ESPN to drop its 3-D channel due to limited interest, stereoscopic home entertainment is left without any major players in its corner. 3-D, it seems, has been abandoned entirely for the home theater’s new darling: Ultra HD.

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In a pre-CES briefing last weekend, Shawn DuBravac, chief economist for the Consumer Electronics Association, said that he expected up to 150 Ultra HDTV announcements at this year’s show. Of course, adoption of the feature would be slow–being hot at a trade show doesn’t mean consumers will rush out in droves to upgrade–but DuBravac was optimistic about it because of 3-D TV, not in spite of it.

“3-D TV has done really well,” he said. “We’ve just stopped talking about it.” He did point out, however, that most people aren’t necessarily buying 3-D sets for their 3-D functionality. As a feature on higher-end and mid-range TVs, “consumers are adopting it by default.”

3-D television won our living rooms by attrition, but has done little to capitalize on it. Perhaps it’s because 3-D has almost always been novelty for novelty’s sake. The format has done little in cinema other than raise ticket prices, as few films implement it in a way that improves the experience. As such, 3-D viewing seems to be doomed to a cycle of dormancy and resurgence, one that began long before films even had sound.

If the problem with 3-D is with its implementation and not the technology behind it, it remains unlikely that improvements to the tech will make it anything more than a forced add-on. But the technology still marches onward: Today both Sharp and Marvel Digital are teasing TVs that merge glasses-free 3-D–the holy grail of 3-D tech–and Ultra HD displays. Such a display could be breathtaking–or it could be another 3-D-capable device for which we leave the 3-D off on.

The fact remains that 3-D today operates on the same basic principle as it did in the early 1900s: Here is an image, and a method for tricking your eyes into believing that it recedes from or moves toward you. Now consider the rapidly improving Oculus Rift, which is based on an idea people have had for a while but lacked the means to achieve effectively until now.

That’s what we look for in our technology: Something that will take us to where we’ve never been before.

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