Debating 3D TV

January 19, 2010 in Internet,Technology

Here's an interesting case study in internet behavior dynamics: when Engadget publishes a story -- any story -- about 3D TVs, the comments are filled with fans and excited (potential) consumers. When the NYT publishes a story called "Do Consumers Really Want 3-D TV's?" the comments overflow with doubters and pessimists.

Thanks to the magic of social comments, each sub-population reinforces its own beliefs. The result is that viewing either story in isolation would convince you that it represents the majority opinion. If the NYT story were a little more critical, crossing some invisible line in the virtual sand, then the fanboys would come running to defend their turf. But it isn't. Engadget's stories, on the other hand, have a broad enough audience that they do attract a few nay-sayers -- but their opinions are quickly drowned out.

For me, the clincher is that the NYT author seems to be worried that he will be forced to watch old shows in 3D:

And what happens when I want to watch shows like “Seinfeld,” or “Everyone Loves Raymond”? Will I really want to experience these in 3-D too?

3D screens do not automatically make everything into 3D. The spatial processing that would require has not been developed on a supercomputing scale, much less a consumer entertainment device. Moreover, they can display 2D content without any problem - in fact, the "3D" content is nothing more than a specially (and spectrally) oriented 2D image which, when viewed through the polarized or shuttered glasses, is rendered differently by your two eyes. The result is the perception of 3D from 2D - and the key point is that there's nothing preventing the good old 2D images we know and love.

I have seen a 3D TV - there's one at the Sony store in midtown Manhattan. It is extremely impressive and yes, you'll own one one day (though they're going to be expensive at first). Depending on the intersection of technology and regulation, you actually may have to (a la digital and de facto HDTV).

I completely agree that the glasses are impractical and a little annoying. But I'll limit my critique to that accessory rather than the entire industry. The NYT article actually notes that glasses-free viewing may be "two to three years away" (personally, I'm less optimistic about that timeframe). Indeed, auto stereo TV's exist (I saw one in Bloomingdales, of all places!) and certainly will be the norm. Will consumers be ready then?

The NYT article concludes:

Maybe the consortiums and manufacturers are right, we’ll see these images popping out of our TVs in our homes and never look back to a 2-D world. But I’m about as geeky as they come, so are most of my friends. We all wait in line for the latest iPhones or video games and we spend an exorbitant amount of time sharing links about the latest digital cameras, video game consoles and the Apple rumors. But I can’t recall a single geeky friend saying anything, with any excitement, about 3-D televisions.

I have to wonder if those "geeky" friends have ever read Engadget.

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