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The Revolution Will Not be Televised in 3D by Virginia Rubey

As 3D product promoters hail 3D as a revolutionary technology, one notable industry pro says he is “hopeful it will die a very quick death... for several reasons.” AVT uncovers both sides of this 3D story, and considers a solution both sides have overlooked.

On the eve of 3D TV’s release, AVT projected the technology’s impact on tech managers would be minimal. As of September 2010, we stand by our earlier evaluation: despite shouts and murmurs that a 3D revolution is here, the technology has yet to prove it’s a cause worth fighting for.

Realistic evaluations for 3D ROI is bound to burst a few bubbles, but the discussion of unlikely possibilities for applying 3D technology has proved riveting.In an interview with Computerworld, Marthin De Beer, Senior Vice President at Cisco’s Emerging Technologies Group, shared Cisco’s vision for applying 3D technology to videoconferencing, telepresence forums, and holography: "Someday we can sit around a virtual table and you will be able to walk around behind somebody and see the back of his head, but he will actually be thousands of miles away,” he said. “It's coming.”

AV pros are passionate and laud the revolutionary vision, but pro investment in “someday” projects depends on the availability of efficient products. For all the buzz, 3D products have not hit the market with a bang.

A 3D capable system requires a 3D display; a 3D adapter for HDMI 1.4a signal conversion; a 3D emitter; 3D eyewear; and a 3D source device. As AVT reported in April, 3D content is still at a deal-breaking minimum, although 3D hardware producers (still) insist that will change.

There has been some progress toward navigable 3D systems packaging and 3D content offerings this summer: DIRECTV launched a 3D satellite receiver package that includes four 3D-dedicated channels (three of which broadcast “pay per view” or “on Demand” programs for $6.99 each), while Mitsubishi debuted its 75-inch LaserVue 3D-ready HDTV alongside a 3D Starter Pack in July.

  • So what do 3D consumers get, and what do they pay for? Use the chart below as your guide:

3D Hardware Requirements Product Price Range
3D TV$1,100 (50-inch Plasma, 1080p) - $5,999+ (75-inch Laser TV, 1080p)
3D Adapter
$100 - $300 3D Eyewear with DLP Link or Matching Emitter (IR, RF, Bluetooth) $115 - $400+ (excluding battery replacement cost) 3D Satellite Receiver
$199 for new DIRECTV customers + $10 monthly access charge + $6.99 content cost per program 3D Blu-ray player
$150 - $450 3D Desktop Gaming System (excluded from total cost figures) $1400 - $6700 TOTAL COST FOR 3D
$1,785 - $7,470excluding the cost of DIRECTV pay per view content; 3D Blu-ray discs; 3D eyewear battery replacements and cost of multiple sets; and 3D gaming system options

Mitsubishi’s Starter Pack includes a 3D Adapter (HDMI 1.4a to checkerboard conversion); 2 pairs of 3D eyewear; and a matching emitter for $399. Additional eyewear must be compatible with your 3D system. At $115-$400 a pair, you may need to rethink the guest list for your Super Bowl party - or settle for HD.

Technologists appreciate innovative industry visions, but 3D technology does not - yet -offer a sight as spectacular as its price. How immersive is a 75-inch 3D screen set against a 20-foot white wall when you’re wearing clunky glasses and holding the Blu-ray, DIRECTV, and display remotes? The manufacturers’ strong recommendation that viewers watch 3D content from a distance triple the size of the screen is another complication.

The viewer distance recommendation is warranted, nonetheless. Though complaints can get lost amid the marketing buzz, some consumers have called 3D “a headache,” and no wonder: 3D product warnings acknowledge the risk of epileptic seizures; strokes; altered vision; lightheadedness; dizziness; involuntary twitching; confusion; nausea; loss of awareness; convulsions; cramps; motion sickness; perceptual aftereffects; eye strain; poor posture; headaches; fatigue; and disorientation.

You don’t have to worry about watching too much 3D TV: YouTube videos notwithstanding, 3D content limitations are frustrating for the most avid of Avatar fans, and while 3D product manufacturers insist more 3D content is coming soon, it may be too soon for some. Content producers already struggle with rising production costs amid plummeting ad sales, and accommodate SD, HD, SAP & MPEG-4 formats. With a successful SD to HD migration still underway, 3D TV is a poorly articulated interruption for producers, and an unwelcome jab for consumers who just invested in an HD entertainment system.

Producers also point to a potentially fatal flaw in 3D-dedicated productions: the excitement that fuels industry innovation could spur a technology that will detract from, rather than enhance, a story.

Paul Parrie, Associate Vice President of Information Systems & Technology at the National World War II Museum, put together one of the most impressive state of the art theaters with his team this year. The seasoned AV pro acknowledges, “If you can’t tell a story with cuts and dissolves, you’re not a very good producer - or your story isn’t very good.”

Are we really investing in 3D for the sake of feeling close to Brangelina in the sequel to Mr. & Mrs. Smith?

AV pros are discussing a bigger picture. There are industries where 3D technology may be a better fit: hospitality centers, college admissions offices, disparate offices and property & product dealers could enhance efficiency and user experience with 3D tours, presentations, and meetings. The ROI would, of course depend on the degree to which consumers adopt of 3D-ready systems, but if 3D video quality evolves into a sufficient replacement for college visits, saved travel expenses could offset the cost of 3D system hardware!

At this stage in 3D tech’s evolution, that revolution is a long way away.

If we learned anything from the first 3D “revolution,” we learned that successful 3D tech requires more R&D than enthusiasts have been willing to utter aloud. Sky-high consumer product costs may not be a sustainable strategy to support 3D tech development, but companies like SENSIO, Cisco, and Magnetic 3D are thinking beyond the 75-inch box.

SENSIO turned heads during FIFA’s 2010 World Cup in South Africa with 4,500 live 3D screenings at 700 theaters in 33 countries, and Magnetic 3D debuted auto-stereoscopic (glasses-free) 3D displays and digital signage solutions through “Suites of the Future” at Sun Life Stadium in February.

The SENSIO 3D Live Global Network provides an online schedule of local 3D events and affordable ticket purchasing options, which sounds a lot like IMAX... but looks a lot better than the 3D options consumers can install at home.

For more 3D updates, check out AVT’s coverage of CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment

Virginia Rubey is a New Orleans-based video journalist and educator.