Thursday, January 07, 2010

3-D At CES

There have been a ton of announcements for new 3-D products at CES this week. New high-definition screens, projectors, and even two 3-D channels (a new ESPN 3-D channel broadcasting part-time in 2010, 3-D Discovery in 2011).

It's all about 3-D now.

Even though I'm a huge supporter of 3-D as a technology, though, I'm starting to get a queasy feeling.

First off, 99% of consumers will need to buy new HD screens. That's after a huge portion of the market already bought new screens in the last 3-5 years to get HD in the first place.

Plus, and I think this is important, HD sold itself. I still remember the first time I saw a plasma screen displaying 480p (which isn't even HD). It was mind-blowing. It was an incredible upgrade over regular television.

Zero selling was required. Just calibrate an HD display properly and put it next to a regular television. Sold. The only resistance to HD was price. It was impossible to object on any other grounds.

Selling 3-D, though, is not as easy. To begin with, your customer throughput is limited. Twenty people could stand around an HD display and be wowed at the same time. For 3-D, though, there are only a certain number of glasses to go around (particularly for sets that use powered shutter glasses). So if ten people are standing around a 3-D display, one or two guys will be watching in 3-D--the other eight will be looking at a strange, blurry screen.

Are those other eight guys going to be willing to wait in line to get a look? I don't know, but I do know that it's not nearly as easy a sales experience as buying HD.

Then there's the glasses. That's a problem. It's one thing to wear the glasses in the theater for a couple of hours. It's another thing to wear them at home whenever you watch something in 3-D. That just doesn't seem very convenient, and much of what makes home electronics successful is convenience, not just performance.

Remember when progressive DVD players came out? Greatest sellable tech ever, because all you had to do was put in a standard-definition DVD and you'd get video output in 480P. Genius. It was totally transparent to the consumer in terms of a learning curve, because there wasn't one. There was no inconvenience.

3-D tech, in its current home form, is inconvenient. That's going to create a degree of consumer resistance that may be greater than the industry anticipates.

Auto-stereoscopic 3-D is going to solve the glasses problem, but how many years will it be before that technology is mainstream? Magnetic 3D is showing a full line of displays at CES, but it will be years (maybe even a decade) before auto-stereoscopic 3-D is affordable for consumers.

Plus, and here's another potential issue, is the new Blu-Ray 3-D standard going to be compatible with auto-stereoscopic displays?

This is getting very, very messy.

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