3-D television is dead... so what next?

February 8, 2017 by Marc C-Scott, The Conversation
What’s the bet they didn’t buy one? Credit: Shutterstock/Dusan Petkovic

Back in 2010 Sony Australia's Paul Colley forecasted that a large percentage of Australian viewers would have 3-D televisions by 2014.

In the same year, industry pundits such as Simon Murray predicted that sales of 3-D TVs were set to increase in the years to come.

But others were heralding the death of 3-D TVs and this year the remaining major manufacturers, LG and Sony, have said they will no longer produce 3-D-capable televisions.

So despite all the repeated push and positive predictions, what went wrong with 3-D TV?

Tim Alessi, LG's director of new product development, acknowledged this year that:

[…] 3-D capability was never really universally embraced in the industry for home use, and it's just not a key buying factor when selecting a new TV.

Sales of 3-D TVs have been in decline for several years, according to data from analysts NPD. In 2013, 3-D TVs accounted for 23% of TV purchases in the United States, but this dropped to just 8% in 2016.

The lack of interest in 3-D TV is also evident on the websites of retail stores in Australia. For example, two years ago Harvey Norman had 92 televisions on its website, of which 53 were 3-D capable. Today, of the 100 televisions listed, only 11 are 3-D ready or capable.

But were Australians ever interested in 3-D TV in the home?

Australians snub 3-D TV

Australia's commercial and pay made attempts to trial 3-D television broadcasts during 2010-12.

The trials were claimed to be the "first free-to-air terrestrial 3-D TV broadcast anywhere in the world" and included the NRL's State of Origin.

Despite the limited trials, 3-D TV was then shelved by Australian broadcasters. This may have been due in part to focus on the digital television transition, which had started in some regions during the same year.

On a consumer level, 3-D technology has not gained traction at home. A 2012 report from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found that 3-D was never a key factor in Australians purchasing a new television.

The main factors that drove viewers to buy a new model were: picture quality and viewing experience; a flat or bigger screen; and access to more channels. Of viewers surveyed in the ACMA report, 78% said that high definition was very or extremely important in their purchase. Only 16% said 3-D capability was a key reason for their purchase.

So with manufacturers withdrawing from 3-D TV, is 3-D itself dead too?

Will 3-D still exist?

3-D has had a long and arguably more successful history in cinema. It's been a go-to for the industry when faced with uncertainties with the introduction of other media, including television and the internet.

As shown in a chart, developed by Sony Professional Education and Knowledge (SPEAK), the first immense 3-D film period was during the 1950s when television was being introduced to many countries around the world.

The most recent phase of 3-D films dawned in 2009, a trend that some attribute solely to the release of James Cameron's science-fiction film Avatar.

Despite the success of some 3-D films, even Cameron has argued that Hollywood has overused 3-D. It has been criticised as little more as a gimmick and a money-making exercise, as 3-D tickets are more expensive than those for 2-D screenings.

This period of 3-D cinema is also beginning to slow as the percentage of films released is 3-D declines.

Still, 3-D appears to suit a cinema audience more than the home TV, so what could be the next add-on for TV at home?

Could VR and 360-video be the big thing?

The latest technology being discussed in media production is virtual reality (VR) and 360-video.

The highly regarded documentary-maker Sir David Attenborough created a virtual reality experience that was shown at the Australian Museum in Sydney last year, and at the National Museum of Australia this month in Canberra.

But an experience where everyone is wearing headsets is not the best use of a cinema space.

This is just one reason why VR could be an interesting space in which television broadcasters can experiment – perhaps using it as additional content rather than as competition.

The NBA has already trailed 360-video, including games and the recent documentary Follow my Lead.

In Australia, Fox Sports began to experiment last year with the release of Fox Vision. The initial launch was focused on the peak race of the V8 Supercars season.

It allowed the viewer a range of "second screen experiences" via their smartphone, including 360 video hot laps. Fox Sports will expand to other sporting events during the year.

The Seven network also partnered with Samsung to provide VR and 360-video experiences from the Rio Olympics.

But broadcasters should look beyond sport when experimenting with VR and 360-video. It could be added to many other types of TV program in Australia.

A key benefit is that it does not require you to buy a new TV. Instead, you can use a smartphone, which 84% of Australians already have.

It would further engage with the audience rather than completely take them away from the television screen. Reality programs particularly come to mind, a key battle ground for commercial broadcasters in Australia.

For example, Ten could allow its audience 360 access to the I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here jungle. Sit in the lounge room with Wayne and Tom on GoggleBox, or be in the centre of the trials for Survivor.

Maybe Seven could allow a 360 view of the My Kitchen Rules table or Nine could allow the audience to be one of the guests at a Married at First Sight wedding.

So during a year where the battle for ratings is focused upon a sports and reality program lineup, 360 video maybe a go-to for Australian broadcasters.

Explore further: Third time unlucky for 3-D television – so what went wrong this time?

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