One year ago, TV manufacturers planned a coming-out party for 3-D TV that would ignite another television upgrade cycle. Fast-forward to CES 2011 and it’s as if the standard is already forgotten. And while smart TV is still in its early stages, the ultimate promise of the transforming the TV to a service platform holds much more potential long-term than 3-D.
TV producers and distributors aren’t the only ones struggling to cope with technology-driven changes to their business models. Traditionally slow-footed TV set-makers are also straining to manage the introduction of three major new technological upheavals simultaneously: 3D, Internet connectivity and LED backlighting. Unfortunately, the two sides of the business aren’t always on the same page. As set-makers race to bring streaming video into the living room, the networks are still trying to keep it out.
I’m no economist, but the big crowds and buoyant atmosphere around CES certainly seemed like a good sign for the business, if not the rest of the economy, and a welcome change from last year’s somber gathering. It almost didn’t matter that all three of the trends at the show – 3DTV, e-book readers and tablet PCs – were almost certainly being oversold in terms of their near-term consumer appeal. It felt good to see people hyping stuff again.
Heading into the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month, it’s already clear that the big story in the home entertainment sector will be 3-D. There will be countless 3DTVs on display, 3-D Blu-ray prototypes, dueling 3-D eyewear demos, and hoopla from at least three different 3-D consortia. What attendees won’t see, however, is a lot of 3-D programming, and therein lies the rub.
James Cameron’s $350 million 3-D extravaganza, “Avatar,” opens this weekend and 20th Century-Fox isn’t the only company with a lot riding on its success. Consumer electronics makers are hoping it ignites consumer interest in 3-D technology for the home. With flat-panel TV prices falling to levels comparable to the old CRT models, set-makers are betting heavily on 3-D to restore some of their lost profit margins. Even Apple seems to have something 3-D up its sleeve. Yesterday, the PTO published a patent application from Apple for a technology for adjusting a display in response to head movements so that 3-D images will always appear in 3-D. One hitch: There isn’t that much 3-D content to watch on all those new 3-D TVs.
Whether it’s the flood of new 3-D movies in theaters, 3-D browsers for the mobile phone or 3-D technology in all forms of consumer electronics, it’s clear the digital world is no longer flat.
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.