3DTV Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

Sure, the images look great on the tradeshow floor and the device ecosystem seems to be coming together very nicely, but are we looking at a market where the products are a bit ahead of the mainstream consumer?  In reality, 2010 is probably not the year of 3DTV, but maybe it will be remembered as the year that 3DTV was hyped.  There are a number of reasons to be skeptical of the hype and Howard Postley of 3ALITY Digital Productions provides enlightening insight in this video interview shot at Parks Associates Connections Conference at CES. 

As producers of equipment that allow the creation of 3D content, Postley and 3ALITY Digital have taken the proverbial arrows in the back regarding 3D TV content production.  Producing for 3D is a new art and requires looking at things (literally) differently as compared to 2D productions.  Postley explains that the live 3D production for television has required two film production crews, which increases cost of production. 

He also explained that things such as closed captioning and graphics are other challenges that need be dealt with, so that a character zooming across the room doesn’t result in graphics and closed captioning to disappear behind a person’s head.  The MPEG IF is addressing these sorts of technical details. 

Like VOD in its early days, content rights, particularly for content produced in two dimensions, may be an issue, at least for older programs.  Granted, content owners have gotten more sophisticated in their contracts (rights to everywhere in this and every other universe).  Still, there may be talent who has not assigned their 3D rights to a particular content owner. 

The human factors associated with the need for glasses will be probably the biggest determinant in the near-term success of 3DTV.  People may wear glasses for special events and for big productions, but how often will they wear them for everyday television?  The passive glasses don’t work for everyone and the auto-shutter glasses, which have the potential to be tuned to the person, were light enough, but did feel like I was wearing glasses again; I spent decades trying to ditch my glasses, I certainly don’t want to start wearing glasses again for long periods of time again. 

The ideal would be an autostereoscopic display, as glasses would not be required.  Although there were some demonstrations of audostereoscopic displays at CES, the experts on the Connections Conference at CES seemed to agree that is still 5 to 10 years before autostereoscopic technology makes its way to the living room.  They suggest that the first implementations of autostereoscopic displays may be include hand-held devices and digital signage applications. 

The way we interact with television also factors into the success equation of 3D TV.  For instance, right now, I am composing this post on my lap-top, while watching the NFL playoffs on the television.  If I were wearing 3D glasses to watch the football game, would I have to remove them every time I glanced down at the PC? 

This leads me back to my original question – the Navin White question – about eyestrain and other potential long-term health effects of 3D TV. I tend to get queasy after playing video games involving motion, such as flight simulation games.  Will I feel similar watching a full auto race in 3D?   There are others who have similar concerns regarding the potential for 3D to have negative health effects, including David Wood, deputy director general of the European Broadcasting Union, who is referenced in this article3D TV, a sight for sore eyes. 

Make no mistake, 3D TV will be here eventually, it just that 3D TV has the same feel that HDTV or VOD had 10 years ago, when there was a lot of hype and most of the elements in place, but some seemingly small details held up widespread deployment for a number of years. 


  1. Note, an excellent, academic whitepaper, CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES IN VIDEO CODING FOR 3D TV published by Florida Atlantic University on this topic, written in 2006, but as relevant as ever, can be found at this link.  
  2. Here is a whitepaper written in 1982 on the impact of 3D on learning, EFFECT OF 3-D TELEVISION ON SPONTANEOUSRECALL AND LEARNING.  
  3. 3D TV, a Sight for Sore Eyes.
  4. Here are some cool glasses that are one way to experience 3D today, at least on a personal  basis and maybe not the traditional shared living room experience.  
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