Why it May Take a Long Time to Roll out 3D in the Home

Posted by Rob Enderle, principal analyst, Enderle Group

I’m actually a big fan of 3D, I went and saw Avatar over the weekend in IMAX 3D and can’t picture seeing this movie in any other way.   The realism is stunning and it almost feels like you are in the picture.   If this is the kind of thing that we will be seeing in the next decade then sign me up.  You’d think I’d be a huge fan of 3D in the home but, while I think it could be cool, I’m having reservations.   Let’s talk about that.

Active Shutter Glasses
The technology used in the movies is good polarized technology which allows the theaters to use relatively inexpensive polarized glasses they can buy in bulk to make the 3D effects work.   The glasses are light, they don’t have to be recharged, and if folks run away with them it doesn’t cause the movie theater to go broke.   

The new 3D systems you will be getting in your home use a better active shutter system  but these glasses are heavier, generally cost between $25 and $100 a set, have to be kept charged, and generally require a line of site connection to an IR emitter to function.   This means if you don’t have the emitter in the right place the glasses probably won’t work and with both technologies, the picture is a blurry mess if the glasses don’t work.   

I’m having trouble with the mechanics of this.  You walk in to watch TV take the glasses off the charger if the show is 3D, if anyone walks into the room they have to grab a pair of glasses to see what you are seeing, and if you are having something like a Super Bowl party people better bring their own glasses because I’m sure not buying 20 pair of the things. 

I’m thinking the glasses thing could be a huge barrier to entry (particularly if they don’t make them look a lot less dorky).   And losing the glasses could be an issue, “honey, where did you put the 3D glasses”, or “dam-it you forgot to charge the fricken glasses again”, or “oh crap the dog just chewed up one pair of glasses, you don’t mind watching the movie without them do you?”

I’m wondering if the home market won’t wait until we figure out a way to do this without glasses.

Blu-Ray Obsolescence
The Blu-Ray association has been having a bitch of a time getting people to buy the players, even with them dropping down to around $100, which is a magic number; the players aren’t hitting my “hot things for Christmas” lists yet.   Now we start talking about 3D and the reality that the existing ones may not support this technology and you wonder how much abuse a market will take.  Recall that the first Blu-Ray players didn’t have built in networking and had to be replaced, much of the second generation wouldn’t support all of the BD-Live features and might need to be replaced, and the third generation is now being made obsolete by 3D.   Sure makes the folks that bought PlayStation 3s for Blu-Ray look incredibly smart (this was the only player that hasn’t been made obsolete once).  

I can’t recall a single product class that has been rendered obsolete this many times in so short a period, granted I never really got all that excited about BD Live anyway so we could likely forget the second time but the other two are kind of painful.  

TV Obsolescence
A lot of us have been aggressively replacing TVs over the last couple of years to get ready for the digital channels.   And the vast majority of them apparently aren’t fast enough to support this new 3D specification.   Typically the service life for a TV averages around 8 years and I’m having a hard time picturing, in this economy that many people replacing their sets much more quickly.  

This does suggest that if you are buying a new TV this year or next you buy one that is capable of 120 Hz or more with the idea that it may be capable of the speed you need, however even here you can’t be sure because the glasses and screen have to be synced and the TV may lack the interface needed to sync properly with the glasses even if it is fast enough.   The 3D specification was just finalized and it often takes between 6 and 12 months to get compliant products into market.  

If you want 3D and were in the market for a TV you might want to wait until you can be sure the TV you buy will support it.   Of the seven relatively new flat screen TVs I have, I have one Mitsubishi that may support this new standard (because it currently supports NVIDIA’s 3D Vision standard).  

Gaming May be the Key
I’ve been using Nvidia's 3D Vision technology for awhile and for gaming 3D may make more initial sense than movies.   This is because you typically only have one, and sometimes two, people on the same screen keeping the number of glasses small, you use a smaller TV or monitor which is vastly more affordable to replace, and you are already messing with controllers, microphones and other gaming gadgets which make the use of glasses not all that unusual.   

Rather than a new Blu-Ray player at $200, a new Big screen TV at $2,500, 4 pairs of glasses at $100+ or $2,800 for 3D movies instead you have a new monitor for $250 and 3D kit for $150 or $400 for gaming which I think is a vastly more affordable way to move into the 3D world.   And you can typically play a movie on your Gaming PC (Blu-Ray drives are cheap – add another $100) or PS3.  

Wrapping Up:  3D is Coming But it will Take Awhile
I do think 3D is cool but that given we are all mostly both struggling financially and have relatively recent TV purchases that it will take some time for it to roll out and that it may be after 2015 before it is in wide use.    I still wonder if we also need to wait for a technology which doesn’t require you put on dorky classes.   I’m even struggling with how this will be done for TV shows (“put on your 3D glasses the next show will be in 3D!”) and wonder if it may take even longer for that.    Given we are moving to streaming and on-demand media there is a chance that TV could actually move more quickly but this all needs to be worked out better than it seems to be at the moment.  

At CES this year 3D will be big, I’m a fan of 3D, but I wonder if we’ll really see that much of it at home before 2015.   If you see Avatar see it in IMAX 3D and let me know what you think, I’d also love to see your thoughts on 3D in general and whether you will be buying into this yourself next year.  Hope you all have a wonderful holiday this week and that Santa is good to you.