How 3-D TV Will Go From Hasselhoff To Must-Have

When I took my kids to see “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” a few weeks ago, I realized I hadn’t been to a 3-D movie in the theaters for years, maybe a decade. Since it’d been such a long time, I wasn’t sure what to expect, particularly since my own preconceptions about the technology are a product of growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, when 3-D was essentially the cinema equivalent of the chia pet.

And I’m by no means unique. Years of American pop culture, where images of glasses-wearing movie audiences and, well, poorly done 3-D, have shaped consumer perceptions of the technology as a gimmick, making the industry’s big bet on 3-D somewhat of a risk.

Those pushing 3-D have their hands full. There are big issues to address in order to make 3-D technology a widespread reality in both the theater and the home, issues such as which technology to use, how to make the feature affordable for new TV models, and finding ways to convert the large libraries of existing 2-D movies to 3-D.

But all this aside, 3-D’s biggest hurdle is its own past. Like a David Hasselhoff comeback tour, the technology must overcome the connotation of kitsch it has developed over the past 50 years. Rightly or wrongly, many of us have developed deep-seated negative impressions of the technology, and just as we wouldn’t pay $100 for a Hasselhoff concert, we as consumers are not likely to plunk down $1,000 for a 3-D TV that we see as a mere novelty.

So, will 3-D be able to go from novelty act to headliner in the consumer’s mind?

I think so. Just as my family and I were mesmerized by the 3-D effects in Ice Age, other consumers are seeing how 3-D technology has matured, and new tentpole titles like James Cameron’s “Avatar” will have an even greater impact in coming months. Neither the press nor the movie-going public will be able to ignore “Avatar” — which is on a path toward pop culture phenomena itself — and both will see 3-D as the key differentiating factor in the experience.

And while movies such as Avatar show consumers the potential of 3-D technology, a number of factors are bringing 3-D in the home closer to reality, with the big guns in consumer tech setting their sights on the technology. Other companies are popping up to develop technology that will convert existing libraries of 2-D content to 3-D; as the consumer’s impression of 3D technology goes up (and the prices of 3DTVs comes down), there will be more and more content for the consumer to watch.

While some washed-up pop icons may never be able to resuscitate their careers, 3-D is on verge of reshaping its image in the minds of millions of consumers. Sure, the technology still has to overcome a few other hurdles on its comeback tour, but consumer attitudes about 3-D will not be the barrier it once was.

Question of the week

Do you think 3D will overcome its history and become a hot new consumer technology?
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Michael Wolf

Chief Analyst NextMarket Insights

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4 Comments Subscribers to comment
  1. I agree that 3D has remained a gimmick in many recent movies: “Oooh, look what I can do with this effect!” We have not yet found the Alfred Hitchcock of 3D cinema yet, though I have high hopes for Cameron’s AVATAR. I expect that directors will soon tire of playing with the new toys, and learn how to use them for dramatic effect, just as they’ve learned about lighting, depth of field focus control, and framing the image.

    3D should be like a spice in cooking. You should know that it is there, but it should not dominate the creative work.

  2. I don’t know — I saw Coraline in 3D at a theater a while back, and while it was fun, it still struck me as a bit gimmicky, and the 3D didn’t seem to be used to fullest effect, apart from at the end credits. plus the glasses were uncomfortable and it made my eyes feel a little odd after a while. However, as you say, the experience was much better than the tacky old 3D of old.

    ^^^theaters must love the resurgence of 3D as it a draw for the punters (Coraline was the first time I’d been out to the theater in ages), but I still think of it as a gimmick rather than a technology I would want for my home.^^^

    1. @Simon – 3D enabled theaters are seeing significantly higher revenues this years vs non-3D. I do think 3D into the home has some work to do, but over time it will simply become a feature on HDTV.

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