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Is 3D TV Dying in The US?

3D TV is back in the news, but not in a good way. This morning, an ESPN PR spokesperson announced in a tweet that they were discontinuing 3D to focus on other things, like UHD. This move had been rumored for some time in the tech press stemming from a 2011 decision by AT&T U-Verse to stop carrying 3D channels and a significant lack of 3D news coming from ESPN recently as they announced their fall college football coverage.

But really … is anyone surprised?

Over the last year, as demonstrated in DisplaySearch TV shipment data, 3D has shown no real growth in the North America market. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, 3D has continued to grow, although that growth has recently tailed off a bit.

Figure 1 – 3D Share of TV Shipments (DisplaySearch)

The reason for the poor adoption in what many considered to be the best market for 3D? I believe there are a multiple reasons for the low interest:

  1. 3D, as a feature, one that is often offered with other features, still carries a hefty premium and US consumers have been very unwilling in recent years to spend more for features when they can get a large size instead. The average 3D premium for a 55” TV in North America was more than 40% in Q1’13, almost exactly the same as it was in Q1’11. US consumers seem to be far more price sensitive than other regions.
  2. Burden of 3D glasses. Consumers have cited the expense and inconvenience of having to use 3D glasses, of any type, in order to view 3D programs. Given a choice, most consumers would prefer glasses-free 3D TVs, but the technology is a long way from being consumer friendly.
  3. Demonstrations at retail are often not functioning properly.
  4. Consumers in the US have been exposed to 3D at home many times in the past (anyone remember red/green anaglyphic glasses that used to come in cereal boxes?) and the experience has been poorly received. This time around, there is a fair bit of skepticism. In other parts of the world, 3D at home is a fairly new experience and the level of wonder and optimism for content is probably sustaining demand.
  5. Finally, content has been very limited, even 3 years after the launch. Few live programs are available in 3D and most of what is available (exclusive of 3D Blu-Ray releases) is from a limited range of material that is re-run often.

It’s understandable that content creators are hesitant to continue investing in costly new technologies if the viewer base is not growing at an attractive rate. However, this move by ESPN might signal that the momentum has shifted away from 3D in the US and TV manufacturers and retailers would be wise to take note.

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  • Kokomo Display Guy

    Doesn’t something have to catch on before it can die? I would guess many of the 3D capable TV sets sold were never used in 3D mode, it just came with the TV. I have two 3D capable Bluray players but neither has seen a 3D disc nor have I been in the least bit interested in buying a 3D TV.

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  • Marianne Lindsell

    Have delayed buying a 3DTV until I could afford a large screen size, and I was satisfied the technology would be mature enough to be enhancing and not detracting.
    Have just bought Samsung 46 inch smart 3DTV (UE46F7000). To me the 3D capability is worth far more than the internet streaming (hate those pauses).
    I am all about picture quality and immersiveness, – so the passive-glasses 3DTVs don’t interest me because they halve image resolution, and I had waited so long for HD.
    However I have noticed that content is the main issue, for two reasons. Firstly the obvious point that too few Blu-Ray Discs are available in 3D (broadcast TV barely counts for me in teh UK, because it is generally so awful – all reality TV, game shows and every day situational TV).
    Secondly I have noticed that 3D is great for some genres and less of an advantage for others.

    In a well-shot natural history documentary, and when pop-up and pop-back are used seamlessly together to effectively create a virtual screen with front-to-back dimensions as large or larger than the TV width, then 3D is wonderful, and really increases immersiveness.
    However, when only pop-back is used, and especially when there is a single FG plane around about the plane of the TV screen, with a single BG plane a couple of inches behind, then 3D adds relatively little. So front-to-back framing is as important as left-to-right (or up-to-down) framing. On that point I have also noticed a tendency for the TV and its virtual front-to-back frame to come across a little bit like an aquarium viewed (ideally) end on. This is not at all a bad thing, but it does tend to make objects appearing within this 3D volume come across as small objects within an aquarium on the same scale as the 3DTV. This gives another perspective on framing, as sometimes this is appropriate to the content, and sometimes it is not.
    Does anyone else think the 3D experience will improve as film-maker framing skills mature?
    So I think we need much more content, and in general much more skill in 3D cinematography, – including screenplay that plays to a 3D arena without being gimmicky.
    The BBC Attenborough series on Plants and Galapagos were manifestly wonderful in all respects. It would be useful if these could mark a baseline standard for the rest.
    Finally – as a wearer of prescription glasses – the ability to get a pair of 3D-glasses built to my prescription, comfortable to wear, and not black, would be a significant improvement.
    Overall though, I am delighted with the TV, and will be absolutely gutted if 3D ultimately goes down the drain through lack of take-up.
    Instead – I would far rather see TV development move towards embracing -both- 4K, and glasses-free 3D, – (crucially) coupled with mature 4K 3D content. You may think we are already there – but think a bit about the many ramifications (and economics) of the content issue, as described above.
    Can classic content be economically 3D-ised? Front-to-back framing will unavoidably let it down, but it may still be worth doing?

  • Marianne Lindsell

    I would like to add to my comments below that I am not simply a natural history addict. I am equally interested in drama, sci-fi, other documentaries and comedy.
    Can anyone tell me why 3D content is so expensive to produce?