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The following article is the latest in the "3D TV at CES 2010 – Was it Actually Like HD a Decade Ago?" series. Other articles in this series are as follows:

My previous articles in this series have mentioned a few factors by which the 3D implementation effort is different from HD a decade ago, rather than similar, as some industry experts have expressed.

In this fourth installment, I analyze how consumers could embrace the 3D effort, and I provide some ideas to help them evaluate the adoption of 3D for their particular application: Either as a replacement of HDTV, or as a value added feature for 3D content, whether it is sourced from satellite, cable, or Blu-ray.

Industry and Consumers

3D for the home arrived to a world of a matured digital TV technology and an established Blu-ray industry, neither of both were available upon HDTV introduction a decade ago.

Would those technology advances make the 3D implementation easier than it was for HD? Perhaps, but those are only part of a possible success of 3D at home. The DTV transition has now been complete and about half of households have DTV. Those factors should also make the gradual acceptance of 3D easier, being a product based on similar digital video technology already accepted by millions of households.

HDTV did not have these favorable factors in 1998, other than DVDs showing better than VHS in analog sets since 1996.

However, this does not imply that consumers will rush to the stores and replace their sets with 3D sets.

Other factors could make 3D less attractive to many viewers: Reduced light output, wearing dark glasses, higher delta cost, reduced resolution on content distributed by service providers, etc.

Complexity and Confusion

3D manufacturers, content creators, service providers, and consumers must productively leverage the decade of HD experiences to make 3D a product of quality, less confusion, and simplified installation/compatibility/connectivity, not just to make new revenue.

The industry now has the opportunity to make 3D less complicated and more standardized than DTV was for consumers. With a distribution model not compromised in resolution, image quality, and bandwidth, as planned by satellite, cable, and terrestrial broadcast stations.

Although what is happening is exactly the contrary, I understand it is due “mainly” to the higher signal requirements of 3D when transported over the legacy HD infrastructure that was not designed for 3D.

While the industry may entice consumers with the idea of having the Avatar 3D experience of the local theater at home, it could be risky for the adoption of 3D when consumers turn from the relative darkness of the 3D content back to regular 2D viewing, and note the superior brightness they are accustomed to seeing in HD, the superior resolution (unless it’s a 3D Blu-ray), and a better overall punch in the image.

Consumers cannot experience this comparison with the same content at the local theater. The “not-liked” risk of a consumer there is under $20 for a 3D ticket, the risk at home would be much more costly. Fortunately, 3D panels and 3D Blu-ray players can still be used for 2D, if the 3D honeymoon goes south.

Which Content to Watch, When?

Some proclaim that 3D will replace the current TV at home. I do not agree with the concept of watching everything in 3D using a TV feature that converts 2D content to 3D images.

Most TV content made for 2D is not suitable for 3D viewing and would not be a pleasant experience at home viewing it on a constant basis (about 4 hours or more per day, as typical bean counters say TV is viewed by the public).

Additionally, viewing all the 2D content converted to 3D by the TV could create visual fatigue and discomfort. Not to mention the effect of wearing the 3D glasses during the daily TV viewing, or having to double up and wear the 3D glasses over prescription glasses, and the sense of separation from other viewers that the dark glasses produce for what is otherwise a family event.

However, the polarization of passive 3D versions may eventually be applied to prescription glasses, which would turn them into a limited-use piece and become even more expensive than active glasses.

Even without headaches or irritating effects, the unnatural effect of the 3D conversions done by the 3DTV is also an issue. I experienced various conversions over the past few months that may be acceptable for very short viewing (i.e. a 30 second add, a musical video) but was unacceptable to me for longer periods, such as a whole program.

Substandard 2D-to-3D conversions done on the fly by the 3DTV could potentially be a turn off for many viewers, and such rejection could transfer to true 3D content. I will discuss this subject in another article.

However, some well-made content made specifically for 3D could be enjoyed at home occasionally if the conditions are right.

Viewers would put their 3D glasses on, enjoy the different experience for the length of the feature, and when the content is over, they will take off the 3D glasses and resume their customary viewing of typical 2D content originally made for TV, including 2D movies, news, etc. This situation is comparable to viewing a special 3D feature in the local theater and return back home for 2D viewing.

Starting this year consumers will have the chance to purchase new 3D displays, 3D Blu-ray players, 3D movies, and 3D services, to experience 3D in the privacy and convenience of the home.

Could that again create a situation of patrons not frequenting the local theater because they have a better setup at home, now with 3D? Perhaps, for similar reasons home theaters were a success: No noise from adjacent patrons, no discourteous people text messaging or emailing on the distracting cell’s bright screen (not necessarily kids, like it happened to me during Avatar every 10 minutes), no stepping or sitting on bubble-gum or sticky soda, not to mention the convenience at home of being able to stop the movie to get (or get rid of) whatever your needs are, etc.

In other words, it has the potential for a repeat and get the movie industry worried again, but for that to happen 3D has to establish itself at home in large volumes. I do not see that happening any time soon (or happening at all), and if that happens the movie industry has plenty of time to plan for the next method of attraction to the local theater, maybe smelling the scene, but without a nose adaptor on the 3D glasses, please.

3DTV - Replacement or Addition?

I explore below some possible situations that consumers may face soon when considering 3DTV adoption:

  1. Would a household need more than one HDTV capable to view a true 3D program at home? Considering the limited availability of 3D content compared to 2D, and the sporadic occasion of 3D viewing, I do not see how multiple 3DTVs can be justified when the family can gather in front of the 3DTV capable for that occasion.

    Other than video-gamers, 3D has been usually a movie/sport experience for larger screens, such as home-theaters. A typical home does not normally have more than one dedicated home-theater, although for many consumers the definition of home-theater extends even to a small TV, some speakers, and a beanbag.
  2. Would it be reasonable to convert a front projection home-theater to 3D, and buy a new 3D projector (or two), silver screen, external polarization filters, HDMI wiring rated for high bandwidth (if not already installed), 3D Blu-ray player, new 3D compatible A/V receiver, multiple 3D glasses for the family, etc. just for the viewing of an occasional 3D movie?

    Some may reject the idea just by looking at the cost. I would rather qualify my response as follows:

    Perhaps the conversion is reasonable, if:

    a) It was time for replacing some major pieces of the HT system anyway, and

    b) The Delta cost for adding 3D capabilities is reasonable (about 20% for me, maybe a different percentage for you, maybe zero after the initial period of early adoption), and

    c) The 2D display quality is not compromised for the system to be 3D capable, and

    d) The image quality of the new system for 2D is better than the current HDTV experience, and

    e) Several reliable equipment reviews tested the 3D and 2D performance and demonstrated to be of high quality, on both.
  3. Would I replace a 2D panel for a 3D panel for the viewing of an occasional 3D movie/sport? Yes, but only if the 5 points above are met.
  4. Would I buy a new panel with 3D capabilities if needed?  Yes, if the 3D panel version meets the criteria of b, c, and e above.  Ignore e) if the purchase cannot wait for published reviews, but you are running the risk of later reading bad reviews of a set you already purchased.
  5. Would I accept wearing 3D glasses to view occasional 3D programs at home? Perhaps, but I have to experience 3D often at home to provide a categorical answer.

Although I am not thrilled to wear the 3D dark glasses as a videophile conscious of image quality, I may be able to concentrate in the content and enjoy the 3D experience at home such I did with Avatar at the local theater, and temporarily disregard the constraints of the 3D technology and the compromised distribution by service providers.

I accept 3D better a) knowing that the 3D event trades some image advances for the experience of depth that my eyes would not see otherwise, and b) knowing that the system does not compromise the image quality of the 2D viewing I can experience when I want, perhaps even during the viewing of the 3D program to compare the same content in 2D Blu-ray. At which point my reaction will be: Magia! Se hizo la luz!

Stay tuned to more coverage of 3DTV.

Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, February 25, 2010 9:04 AM

About Rodolfo La Maestra

Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc  magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines.  In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.

Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities.  Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers.  After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.

In parallel, from 1998 he helped the public with his other career of audio/video electronics, which started with hi-end audio in the early 60’s and merged with Home Theater video, multichannel audio
, HD, 3D and UHDTV. When HDTV started airing in November 1998, and later followed by 3DTV and 4K UHDTV, he realized that the technology as implemented would overwhelm consumers due to its complexity, and it certainly does even today, and launched his mission of educating and helping consumers understand the complexity, the challenge, and the beauty of the technology pursuing better sound and image, so the public learn to appreciate it not just as another television.