Bye-Bye 3D! We Hardly Knew You

– Hello 4K

In what sounds like the death knell for 3D in the home, Disney this week said ESPN, the world’s most successful sports TV channels, will stop broadcasting in 3D by year-end. Recent figures indicate that no more than 120,000 people in the States are watching 3D channels at any one time — not just ESPN’s 3D channels but all 3D channels. ESPN had started broadcasting in 3D three years ago.

ESPN’s withdrawal from the 3D space seems to indicate that the 3D era has ended. It was the largest and most important source of 3D for TV. It reportedly produced 380 sporting events in 3D during the last three years.

The departure of 3D from the living room does not necessarily mean that it will disappear from theaters.

One 3D fan said the complaints about ESPN’s 3D broadcasts were that it did not broadcast all sporting events in 3D, 3D glasses had to be available for all viewers and the room had to be set up to near theater-like conditions: darken the room and sit at certain viewing angles. Also, there were wide variations in the quality of 3D broadcasts because quick cuts from one set of cameras to another could be dizzying. Live events were expensive for broadcasters because two sets of camera and crew were required: one for 2D and one for 3D. That made them much more expensive to produce.

There is an axiom that says if you want to make a new TV technology successful such as was done with HD, you must first provide “must see” live sports in that resolution to drive sales of TV sets with the new technology. Evidently, there was not enough “must see” sports in 3D because sales of 3D TV sets had never reached the numbers that set-makers had predicted.

The first question that pops into the mind is whether 4K will come to the same end. No one knows, of course, but there are many indicators that point to 4K’s success.

So far, at least 4K does not appear to be another 3D, which flopped, more or less, because it required viewers to wear silly-looking glasses when watching TV at home. 3D glasses might be OK in a darkened theater but not in a home where TV viewers are using tablets and smartphones, reading books or newspapers (yes, people still read) or talking with another person. 3D also has …

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