3D television, a technology now supported by almost every set maker, may have been an idea after its time, as content for it has never been abundant and what little there is now appears to be vanishing.
Late last week, the BBC suspended its 3D programming for "an indefinite period" due to a "lack of public appetite" from viewing audiences. The BBC has been piloting 3D series since 2011. Along with the Olympic Games, its 3D programs included several shows and other events, such as the Wimbledon Championships.
Kim Shillinglaw, the BBC's head of 3D, said the programs have not caught on because audiences find it a hassle to use. The network said among its final 3D trial programs this November will be a Doctor Who anniversary special.
About half of the 1.5 million homes in the UK with a 3D-enabled TV watched last summer's Olympics opening ceremony in 3D, but the BBC said only about 5% of those viewers watched the Queen's Christmas Message and a popular children's drama, Mr Stink.
Worldwide, there's been little original 3D TV programming. Most of what has been produced has been sports and documentary programs, according to Paul O'Donovan, a principal analyst in Gartner's Consumer Electronics Research Group.
"Most of what was or is available on TV are 3D cinema movies. I don't follow the distribution of 3D content for TVs in detail. But there certainly wasn't a lot of it about, and even what there was, didn't seem to stimulate the public much," O'Donovan said. "The curious part of this story is that the 3D technology is pretty much standard in most CPUs used in TVs today."
O'Donovan believes manufacturers will eventually begin phasing out 3D technology because it's effectively a "Dodo" and doesn't offer a "realistic" experience.
"Even the glassless 3D TVs never really offered a realistic solution for the average consumer," he said. "There will probably be a temporary resurgence of 3D with the introduction of ultra-HD TVs, especially for the passive retarder folks, but basically -- as I have been saying for the last two years -- 3D is just a passing fad."
Passive retarder technology, used by LG, uses a thin film over the LCD screen that allows 3D viewing with cheap, passive polarized 3D glasses instead of expensive and heavier active shutter glasses.
Ultra-HD is apparently the future, especially when owners see their digital still photos on the higher-resolution TVs, O'Donovan said. Ultra HD resolution includes 4K (2160p) and 8K (4320p), which have 4X and 8X the resolution of today's HD content, 1080p and 1080i (2.1 megapixels per frame).
"Aside from a few pockets of interest by consumers in some countries, 3D TV never really captured the imagination of consumers in the bigger TV markets," said Mike McGuire, a Gartner research vice president. "Personally, I believe it's because the technology doesn't particularly add a lot to the overall appreciation/enjoyment of a lot of programming."
McGuire noted that forcing viewers to wear glasses or sit in a specific spot (for the sets that don't require glasses) is an annoyance.
"If the actual experience was so staggeringly cool, if a baseball or football game, or a TV drama, took on new meaning and was much more enjoyable than standard TV, we'd all have 3D TVs and 3D TV content," he said. "I just don't think the 3D TV experience ever managed to blow the minds of enough people."
Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is [email protected].
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