Everywhere you looked at CES this year was filled with the promise of 3D. Sony made a huge commitment to 3D, betting the company it seems. Nine months later, it appears they will lose the bet. 3DTV is not ready for primetime. The experience is sketchy, the content is not here, and the fix is not that far away – no glasses!
The experience is sketchy
The glasses are a big obstacle. What if you have only two or three at home, and you want a gang to see a football game? Much of the content at CES was repurposed 2D. It looked simply awful. I saw a demo by JVC touted as the first 4K HD experience. It was terrible, with blurs and artifacts. I saw Avatar at IMAX 3D before the show, and even there it took 30 mins into the movie for the mind to calm down and engage with the 3D experience. People with minor eye problems will probably get headaches. The TV experience required real 3D content and new polarized glasses with internal fast switching, and even that was not enough. I agree with this review of Samsung’s demo:
Samsung’s glasses-ridden, 50-inch 3D LED LCD HDTV display did not impress us to the least bit. If you can imagine wavy and blurry vertical 3D lines popping at you and inflicting instant nausea and headaches, then you will understand the effect of the display. It was simply too harsh on the eyes and the image changed 3D perspective as the viewer walked left and right. Overall, the image was not natural but was rather cartoonish and definitely not ready for commercial use.
The content is not here
I saw at least four demos (I lost count). They repeated much of the same content – an Avatar trailer, a Monsters vs Aliens trailer, a Brazilian soccer game, some ancient Kyoto buildings, and some underseas stuff. I had seen Coraline at home in 3D (using the old fashioned red/green glasses) and it was fine. We have had a few other cartoons – Polar Express, Up, Monsters vs Aliens. Hardly enough to fill a Sunday evening, let alone a 24/7 channel.
Discovery Network announced such a channel, and DirecTv announced they would showcase 3D content, but I see it as a land grab. Early on in HD the inimitable Mark Cuban launched HDNet and grabbed a very valauble cable slot. Discovery need not have that many viewers to create a lot of value, if the 3D content eventually comes. So their announcement does not mean scads of new content.
When HD launched, there was a lot of content: movies. In contrast there is very little 3D content. It will take years to build. Repurposed 2D movies do not look great. There is a lot of interest in trying this, especially for blockbusters like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, but it is questionable how good the experience will be. Hollywood is enamored with 3D since they can charge higher ticket prices, and undoubtedly (for a while) higher DVD prices, so we will see some more 3D movies, but it will take a while to fill the library enough for a decent set of 3D channels.
ESPN announced a 3D feed for sporting events. This is more interesting, as football drove color TV and HD. We shall have to see what it looks like, and how much they can afford to broadcast.
The fix is not that far away
There is a way to get 3D on TV without the funky glasses: use a type of fast phase shift to create the illusion of 3D depth by changing viewing angles. It works with a narrow viewing field today. One way to accomplish this is to shift the angle of backlighting quickly. You can see an example of this effect in the flashing picture, courtesy Jim Gasperini.
In my conversations I found that it needs 9 fast-shifted views to encompass the broad field of viewing of a typical family room or bar. I suppose this can be thought of as a center view and then four slightly distorted views on each side. The distorted views do the same sort of thing that ‘panorama’ mode does to stretch 4:3 content across a 16:9 screen. The 9 views allows the off-angle viewing to maintain proper proportions in the center.
I was told this is 5-7 years away. Apparently the speed needs to increase from (today) 240 fps to over 1080 fps (9 x 120). Or something like that.
The HDTV industry had been peddling LED as the next big thing. These LED backlit LCD sets are remarkably brighter and thinner, and allow LCD to rival Plasma in much the same way a more efficient speaker sounds better (louder just sounds better; brighter just looks better). Apparently the TV makers got impatient in a bad market; or maybe Sony’s big move to bet on 3D pushed the rest of them to join the party.
I think they will soon have a bad hangover. The rush to start a new buying cycle with 3D is premature. Too many issues come up with the glasses. What do you do when they break? Keep buying more? Are you going to casually sit there in the family room wearing goofy glasses and staring at the Toob rather than socializing? Nah. You will throw the glasses in the gadget bin and go back to normal viewing.