7/30/2013 8:30 PM ET|
3-D TV faces uncertain future
Though sales of 3-D televisions are slowing and ESPN and BBC plan to stop airing the format, the technology still has its supporters.
Just a few years ago, 3-D TV looked like the next big thing in consumer electronics, but now its future is uncertain after two high-profile programmers have abandoned the format.
Emboldened by the success of the 2009 film "Avatar," which included a popular 3-D version, television manufacturers and programmers rushed into the market. Nearly 30% of LCD TV panels shipped this year worldwide are expected to be 3-D compatible, according to NPD DisplaySearch, a display industry analyst.
But 3-D TV has failed to catch on with U.S. audiences as quickly as anticipated. Only 12 million 3-D TVs have been sold in the country, according to NPD Group analyst Ben Arnold. There's still a dearth of top-tier TV programs airing in the format; watching it makes some people sick; and then there are those glasses.
"3-D TV is a troubled little puppy right now," says Brett L. Sappington, the research director at home electronics researcher Parks Associates.
In June, ESPN said it would stop airing 3-D games and sporting events by the end of the year. On July 5, BBC said it will suspend 3-D programming indefinitely by November due to "lack of public appetite" for the technology.
In the United States, growth in the sale of 3-D TV sets is slowing. Sales of 3-D TVs jumped 32% in 2012, but grew only 5% through the first quarter of 2013, according to Arnold of NPD Group. This year, only 14% of U.S. consumers say they expect to buy a 3-D TV, down from one in four in 2011, according to the researcher.
Ten Network, which owns the Australian rights to televise the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, has no plans for 3-D broadcasts, despite commitments from Olympic organizers to shoot events in 3-D, according to one report.
NBC, which owns the U.S. rights to broadcast the games, has yet to say whether it will air any of its Sochi coverage in 3-D. The network will announce programming plans later in fall, "as we get closer to the games," according to a corporate spokesperson for Comcast, NBC’s parent company.
Of course, the format has its advocates, who say the technology is still in its early stages and is increasingly popular in some overseas markets, such as China.
3net, a 2-year-old joint venture of Discovery Communications, Sony and IMAX, offers a stream of documentaries, movies and other programs that amounts to nearly 24/7 availability in more than 40 million U.S. households through distribution deals with Comcast, DirectTV, Netflix and two other affiliates. The network also airs 3-D programs in the United Kingdom, Italy, China and elsewhere.
By the end of this year, 3net will debut three new series, four major specials and new episodes of several continuing series, according to Tom Cosgrove, the company's president and chief executive. He declined to provide additional details, nor would he say how many viewers are watching the network's shows.
While the United States has been slow to warm up to 3-D TV, it's taking off in Asia and especially in China, Cosgrove says.
"There’s been a push internally by the government -- they've launched a 3-D channel," Cosgrove says. "Manufacturers have embraced it as a platform."
Fans of 3-D TV are adamant about the format's value. "I love my 3-D TV, and routinely enjoy using (its) 3-D capabilities," wrote one commenter on a previous MSN Money report on consumer gadgets that bombed. "If ESPN is discontinuing 3-D programming, it's because no one wants to watch the mediocre programming available on that channel. . . . 3-D TV is not a bad idea, just poorly executed by certain networks."
But detractors can't get around the required use of special glasses to view the images.
"I have 3-D TV. I watched it when I opened the box and haven't used it since," one commenter wrote. "I'm up and down while watching TV. I can't be wearing glasses."
There are technologies that make it possible to watch 3-D images without the goofy glasses, but they might be overshadowed soon by other advanced TV technologies.
Toshiba has introduced a glasses-free version of 3-D TV, but according to a CNET report, the viewing angles are restricted and sets sold in Europe cost about $10,000 last year.
A new version of HDTV known as OLED HDTV gives viewers a similar immersive experience, although it is not 3-D. The first of these gigantic, curved screens are set to hit U.S. retailers' shelves this week, with price tags close to $15,000.
Researchers are coming up with other work-arounds. Scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz have invented "3D+2D" TV that lets people wearing 3-D glasses watch 3-D images at the same time as people without the glasses see 2-D images.
Makers of consumer electronics are banking that Ultra HD, also known as 4K, will be the next big thing in display technology. Over the next 12 months, TV analysts and reviewers predict an onslaught of Ultra HD or 4K offerings in TV sets, monitors, phones, laptops, projectors, content and services. 4K TV is "the HDTV experience on steroids," said John Taylor, an LG Electronics USA vice president, in a 2013 trend report issued by the Consumer Electronics Association.
To be safe, networks such as 3net are shooting shows in HD, 2-D, 3-D, Ultra HD and 4K "and every permutation you can come up with," so consumers can watch in whatever format they prefer, Cosgrove says.
More from Michelle V. Rafter:
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Most everyone has good and valid points to some degree. With an open mind and a little thought think about mine for a minute. 3D is fine, the format is not the problem. The problem is the greed and restrictions that it was presented under. If you don't like the glasses fine. If it gives you a headache I'm sorry for you but that doesn't mean that a cute couple of 5 yr olds shouldn't be able to sit down and just have super fun time watching Nemo fish swim at them or duck acorns that chipmunks throw out of the screen at them. Remember, a lot of what we do here as American parents is for our children. Understand, I want my entertainment also. This format can give a whole new level of viewing enjoyment to so many if it were made available. One might say that it is. But actually it isn't and never has been for the average family. The TV is the cheap part. It's only going to cost a couple hundred extra to go 3D. The TRUE problem and what is killing 3D is that the industry has kept such a tight reign and placed such a high price on it that it has turned off millions of household from ever even trying it. When one finds out that they can't rent a 3D movie at the local Block Buster for $5 for their kids to see but they have to spend $25 or $30 to buy the movie that in its self closes the door to most families. I have a very much above average income with lots of discretionary income, I'm not going to do it. but I would faithfully rent a couple every week, but don't try to force me into buying them. That kind of marketing really pisses me off. I'm an owner of a 3D TV but I will never cave in and support an industry that is trying to manipulate the market as it is. If they really want the technology to flourish, open it up, make it affordable and watch it grow. Yes, I know there are cable channels that broadcast 3D, but again its an extra charge that is uncontrolled by the customer for what they are really getting. Take a look at the faces of almost any family watching a good 3D movie and tell me they're not enjoying it. Ask them if the wouldn't want that experience at home. Mostly all do. So where lies the problem? With the greed and manipulation by the industry. Who's killing it? The same ones who delivered it. The truth is that they delivered it with too greedy of a heart and not in the right spirit of enriching peoples lives.
Preston from Kansas City
I have a 55" Samsung 3D Smart TV. Most of the content offered by Comcast is quite boring but it's improved over past year or so. 3D Blu-rays are excellent.
jmo, don't bother with smart TV, you can get all the same content on a good 3D Blu-ray.
People who do not own a 3D tv should not comment on this subject because you don't even know what you are talking about. I have a 3D tv and I love it. I am tired of articles dogging out 3D tv just because not very many people have it yet. If you don't like 3D because you have to wear glasses that's fine don't watch it, so just shut up and let the rest of us enjoy it.
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