As expected, 3D televisions line the show floor this week at CES clamoring for attention like vendors in a Beijing night market. It reminds me of those car lots full of last year’s SUVs  still waiting for an owner on the outskirts of most American cities. When I see something like this, you have to wonder about the market forces that led to the explosion of production on the supply-side. Will demand keep pace?

My thinking is probably counter to popular belief, but I am fairly sure that the adoption of 3D television will be far slower than predicted. Although the traditional argument about the social problems of 3D glasses has merit, I think there are large market forces that will act as obstacles to adoption. Firstly, the number of folks that recently upgraded to their HD television sets is simply too large.  A recent Nielson study seems to support this. Their data shows that most consumers are fence-sitting on the purchase of a new 3D television and, after exposure to the 3D experience, they tend to want to wait. The reasons for consumer disappointment can be debated, and is probably the subject of a different post.

We as consumers have grown accustomed to the general pace of innovation and upgrade cycles.  Unlike other consumer electronic devices, the ebb and flow of television changes has been fairly steady over the past 60 years. As a consequence, we are willing to upgrade our television set, but only infrequently to keep pace with major developments.

In the past, the introduction of new video standards has acted as the metronome as new technology induces mass adoption about every twenty years:  widely available commercial television was available in the late 1930s, color television in 1951, solid-state televisions addressed color drift in the 1970s, digital television in the 1990s, 2010 full HD becomes widely adopted.  Although one could argue that the adoption rate of new television technologies is accelerating, you’d be betting against the trend, and, perhaps more fundamentally, you’d be assuming the television set can be grouped-in with the adoption rates of other consumer electronics devices.  I believe that this is a mistake, television has a number of social, historical, and technical reasons that it can’t be viewed in the same way that, for example, the cellphone can.

Secondly, to assume that 3D television will quickly become mainstream is to assume that a large amount of broadcast 3D content will become available.  This means that the content generating infrastructure has to be willing to bear the cost of 3D production and broadcast.  Although in the U.S. there are limited broadcasts of 3D content based on “high-end” events that can pay for themselves via increased advertising, it is hard to imagine a similar market dynamic in other countries.  How will the UK pay for 3D broadcast? A fixed license fee structure,  will probably not support the additional cost of 3D a large number of consumers already have sets.  It is even harder to imagine channels like the BBC moving to 3D broadcast.

So, while it is interesting to weave myself through the parking lot of 3D television sets, it is hard for me to imagine them living up to the promise of broad adoption at the pace other, more personal gadgets I’m seeing here at the show will.

About Christopher Jaynes

Jaynes received his doctoral degree at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he worked on camera calibration and aerial image interpretation technologies now in use by the federal government. Jaynes received his BS degree with honors from the School of Computer Science at the University of Utah. In 2004, he founded Mersive and today serves as the company's Chief Technology Officer. Prior to Mersive, Jaynes founded the Metaverse Lab at the University of Kentucky, recognized as one of the leading laboratories for computer vision and interactive media and dedicated to research related to video surveillance, human-computer interaction, and display technologies.

3 Comments for this entry

  • John Mould
    January 24th, 2011

    I am an early adopter in the sense that I purchased a 3D television for home use, having done so my options for content are very limited.

    SKY in the UK broadcast a single channel dedicated to 3D and most of this is repeated endlessly. The Blu-ray releases in the UK are also limited for 3D with the new Resident Evil bieng the latest I have found on the shelf. Our rental library outlets and shops are not stocking the 3D Blu-rays in great numbers due to demand so this does not encourage people to consider such a capability when they know they will not be find fresh content to view on a regular basis.

    Without the mass production of such content the adoption will stagnate until the consumer can see the value spending that extra to go 3D.

    Many glasses for the home consumer have also come under criticism for the eye-separation relating to small children and the design of the glasses for such children to comfortably wear.

    Passive eye-wear for home use would be far better to reduce costs and increase options for the home consumer as the current 60GBP active glasses per person is an expensive home product to accidently sit on! Yet active solutions remain the primary option for the consumer as producing the televisions to use this stereo capability is presumably far easier today.

    However in our business of simulation and training the new 3D buzz has led to the production of cost effective active stereo eyewear ( once a barrier to many clients who opted for passive solutions to meet larger audiences ), we have also seen a number of new projectors offering the capability for a reasonable price-performance so I am sure 3D will be stronger in our commercial circles as it becomes more cost effective and we offer increased options.

    We need to keep an eye on the glasses free stereo as it evolves, today in my opinion it is far from ideal, but just as gesture based markerless technology has started to revolutionise the gaming world versus the traditional tracking technologies I think that glasses free will be the future “if they can get it right”

  • Blair Jaynes
    January 10th, 2011

    I concur. This is not the first attempt to market 3D to consumers. I believe this one will go the way of the blue/red cardboard glasses I put on in a theater decades ago. It will likely hang on and may never die (ala Sony BetaMax), but I wouldn’t put money on it becoming the next generation home TV.

    My grandson said that after he watched the new TRON in both 2D and 3D (I was with him for the 3D event), that the 3D version lost a lot of the detail of the 2D. He didn’t seem to be sold on the “WOW” of 3D, and his is the generation that needs to be sold if it is to be more than the latest “flash in the pan.”

  • Don Dulchinos
    January 9th, 2011

    i am also a 3-D skeptic. it actually makes me remember the now-forgotten technology of Virtual Reality, which never got to market. it was interesting to see how Sony game 3-D such a heavy emphasis (1/3 of booth space?) compared to other majors, like Samsung (more mobile) and Panasonic (big green tech/battery push).

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