3D TV is Dead. Are 3D Movies Next?

January 23, 2013

If you followed the news surrounding this year's Consumer Electronics Show as well as last week's episode of All Access Weekly from the convention floor in Las Vegas, you likely know that most of the buzz surrounded television. Industry giants presented the latest in television tech with absurdly large, crisp screens featuring the new 4K/Ultra HD technology amongst other tech that enhanced the viewer experience and made television viewing a more interactive experience.

There was a notable absence, though, and we're not talking about Apple and Microsoft. They still made their presence known through their integration in various tech presented on the floor, and Steve Ballmer even made an appearance during the keynote to talk about Windows 8. Besides, companies like Samsung, LG, and Panasonic stepped up their game and all but made up for the departure of the big two. No, the absence we're talking about is 3D television.

3D TV was once heralded as the next logical step in the progression of television tech. It only seemed logical given the proliferation of 3D blockbuster films being released in theaters and all of the advancements made in filming for the process. It was an upgrade so advanced from the days of the red and blue anaglyph glasses that it almost seemed a misnomer to call them both "3D." Techies and industry observers were impressed, even if a little skeptical.

The television industry, in turn, started developing the technology for itself. If 3D became an integral part of the filmmaking process and people would pay the extra money to go see these films in 3D, then surely there would be a market for it at home. Especially since were televisions getting bigger, thinner, sharper, and crisper. Part of the reason the movie industry had been in decline in recent years is the proliferation of larger TVs in homes, which took away the novelty of seeing a movie on "the big screen" and necessitated shift to 3D in the first place.

But television has laid out their roadmap for the future, and 3D isn't on the itinerary. In a recent editorial published in Broadcast, a British TV trade publication, Mark Harrison of BBC North proclaimed that the format was dead and that 4K/Ultra HD was the future. Of course, this is obvious to us now with CES a couple weeks behind us, but the concession of the fact by an industry insider seems to confirm what was already being speculated.

The unanswered question, though, is what this means for 3D cinema.If you think the two are different animals and not worth comparing, you're partially right. To some extent, any attempt by one industry to replicate the success of the other by employing similar tactics is going to backfire. People's viewing habits at home with their children won't match what they watch when they're out on date night, for example. In this case, though, it's worth noting because 3D specifically was a way for the movie industry to combat TV's integration of the cinematic experience. TV then, in turn, tried to integrate it and didn't like what it saw.

Does the TV industry on the whole know something that only a few in the movie industry seem to suspect, which is that the era of 3D cinema is nearing its end? It's certainly possible. Let's face it, 3D has been something of a draw at the movies, but its expansion is inherently limited by the fact that it's cost prohibitive for movie theaters – even large chains like Cinemark, AMC, and Regal, among others – to expand their 3D selection. Even the few screens they do have operate at a loss. It's akin to bodegas selling lottery tickets and cigarettes: in most cases, they actually lose money on it, but the trade-off is that it gets people in the door.

But that may not be the case for much longer. Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" met with middling reaction for its 3D, even though Jackson shot it at a higher frame rate to maximize the effect of 3D. Critics and bloggers, curious as to how it would turn out, went to see it in its various incarnations: regular frame rate, the 48 fps rate, and 48 fps with 3D. And many of them came to a surprising conclusion: stripped of the 3D and the high frame rate, the standard 2D print (subjectively) looked and felt better. Compound this with the fact that more and more filmmakers are fighting 3D in very subtle ways; hence the fact that "The Avengers" was filmed in 2D and only made 3D in post-production, and you find that even without its financial obstacles, 3D faces an uphill battle when it comes to being fully embraced.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Trailer
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Granted, 3D hasn't been the passing fad that more cynical observers thought it would be, but it does seem to be on the wane. Now that consumers are starting to not only lose interest in 3D but actively resist it, it's only a matter of time before they come to the same conclusion that the television industry did. And 3D will, once again, be like it was with the red and blue lenses – a fun experiment that we may one day grant some nostalgia, but one that ultimately couldn't be sustained.

Don't miss All Access Weekly's second episode of coverage from the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show this Wednesday at 1:00am!

Here's last week's episode, where Katie talks television tech with industry bigwigs from Samsung, Panasonic, and LG, as well as taking a look at the future of robotics:

Consumer Electronics Show 2013 - Episode 209
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