3D TVs were supposed to be massive. Remember when Avatar was released, and everyone was talking about the future of 3D content at home? That was 2009, and seven years on, it seems that the demand for 3D TVs never quite met the supply. The tech is out there, but it lost its opportunity to take off a long time ago.
Despite many years having passed since 3D TV technology was released, I still don’t know a single person who actually owns a 3D TV. In 2016, it's finally time to ditch a technology that was never going to work well in the first place.
One of the big reasons for this: the glasses. You need a pair to to watch content in 3D. A one-size-fits-all approach - adopted by most companies for cost-saving purposes isn’t exactly a smart marketing idea. Few were willing to invest $100 to $200 on a pair of glasses that might be too tight on your head and too big for your kids to wear.
And speaking of kids, how about this: in 2015, a total of 67 3D films were made around the world, 20 of which were animated kids movies. But a few years ago, reports started coming in that 3D TVs were causing headaches and eye strain. So all the companies making 3D TVs (think Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, LG, Vizio) decided to avoid potential lawsuits by sticking warnings on the boxes stating that kids should not be watching 3D TV at all.
So – the content being made for 3D TV is primarily for kids, yet, the technology isn’t safe for kids? Good job, guys.
And it wasn't just kids who dislike headaches and eyestrain. The impracticality of long-term 3D viewing is a big reason people were never eager to own this technology. Any 3D content that wasn’t made with high production standards will cause this kind of discomfort. There’s also a portion (between 2 and 12 percent) of the population that suffer from stereo blindness, which means they can’t even perceive 3D footage. Add that to the population of people who already wear glasses, and don’t enjoy having to wear two pairs at once just to watch TV, and it’s no surprise that it never took off.
Sports could have been a spot where 3D came into its own. Didn't happen. Channels like ESPN and BBC started 3D broadcasts, but viewer adoption was so poor that they ended up being cut. Imagine inviting friends over for a 3D Super Bowl viewing party - sounds cool, but each 3D TV requires the exact pair of glasses the brand made to work with it specifically - meaning your friend can’t bring over his Sony glasses to watch with your Samsung TV. Unless you bought a whole bunch of the one expensive brand of glasses your TV requires, your viewing party just got canceled. Even if you could invest in that many pairs, the glasses only work correctly with our eyesight from the straight ahead-viewing angle – which isn’t possible for a large group sitting in the average living room. Not unless you all scrunch up on the couch.
No thanks, I think we'’ll just watch it in 2D, said everyone.
On top of that, in the early days the only glasses available were the most expensive and bulky kind: active shutter glasses. Their LCD lenses required batteries in order to alternate the frames from your left to right eye to perceive the image, adding a constant cost in order to use them regularly. Passive glasses (similar to the ones you use at the movie theatre) were eventually developed as a lighter, cheaper option – but they halved vertical resolution, which no one wanted. Making it worse, your only option was, as noted above, tied to the make of your TV. So you couldn’t switch from active to passive glasses and test which style you preferred.
Eventually, James Cameron got together with Dolby and Philips to develop glasses-free 3D technology in the hopes of reviving this dying breed once and for all. But, of course, these TVs could not replicate the experience you get wearing 3D glasses, and it too failed to make any lasting impact. Even in the gaming world, where users are happy to spend big money on new technology to improve the experience, 3D never made a dent because most of the big name games were never even released in 3D. Sony and Microsoft completely switched their focus from 3D to 4K technology a couple of years ago.
Content-wise, there is also the huge lack of downloadable and streaming 3D options to consider. While there might be a slight trickle of 3D films being made each year, finding a TV show filmed in 3D is almost impossible.
The fun part of watching 3D films is knowing you have to get out of the house and go to an actual movie theatre to see it in all its glory. I’ve always felt that way. From the total marketing shift we’ve seen over the past two years, moving away from 3D and onto 4K UHD and Smart TVs, I must not be the only one.
If you still want to buy a 3D TV, you certainly can. Samsung and LG have stopped making new 3D TVs, but you can still find their older models available, and brands like Sony and Panasonic still stock them. Prices range from as low as $699 to as high as $10,000, so it’s possible to get a deal if you really want to watch Inside Out in 3D at home.