As 3D technologies and content have moved to establish themselves in the mainstream, they have transitioned through a period of intense media coverage and hype, followed by a period of a relative lack of excitement. This is a common cycle for many new technologies that enter the market, and is natural to a certain degree. In spite of this, I believe the industry should have done things differently to minimize the post-hype disillusionment, and should do things differently in the future to ensure that 3D rapidly enters a period of sustained growth. Looking back at the recent history of 3D technology, the industry has made certain mistakes which have created negative perceptions among many consumers. I believe the main mistakes are the following.
Automatic 2D-3D conversion in HDTV sets
This feature was introduced in early 3D TVs, and still exists today in the vast majority of 3D HDTV sets sold. The 3D image quality produced by this technology is substandard, and therefore it does not provide a good foundation for consumers to understand, experience, and enjoy 3D. It is a “teaser technology” that is merely a placeholder for the real thing. This technology has created a poor perception of 3D among consumers, and has set a low quality standard which prevents people from understanding the true effects and impact of 3D.
The reasons this technology was introduced in the market are clear. TV manufacturers wanted to sell 3D TVs at premium prices and this was the only way to work around the lack of 3D content. However, although the industry was able to sell several million 3D TVs, it is not the right thing for 3D in the long run. Like most technologies, it is not necessary for 3D technology to be perfect in its first introduction. However, we need to provide consumers a quality level that is good enough to be used as a stepping stone for the next phase. This quality level should be at a point that will allow consumers to engage with 3D. The quality of 2D-to-3D conversion on TVs is pretty low, and I believe it is not sufficient to surpass the engagement criterion threshold. This is why I think it is important for all TV makers to remove this capability and let consumers experience only the true 3D of whatever little content is available today. I understand that this is a radical departure from what is currently done, but at least in this case lack of content will be the issue and not quality. Once you lose a customer due to providing a low quality product, it is always more difficult to get him or her back.
3D has not been a strong element of storytelling for blockbuster movies
The release of Avatar was by far the most important event for all 3D industries. It was a movie that was done well, 3D was an essential part of the storytelling, and it generated huge profits which enticed everybody else into the game. But then, studios tried to pump out as many 3D movies as they could without worrying too much about quality and graceful integration of 3D into the storytelling. Early on, some very bad 2D-to-3D conversions were made in the rush to increase profits. Note that 2D-to-3D conversion for movies is done in a completely different way compared to conversions that take place on TVs. The conversion process for movies is done by humans assisted by software and computer graphics, whereas in TVs this process is done automatically by a computer chip. In movies, the producers have the ability to control quality and potentially deliver a compelling conversion. The conversion in TVs is relatively unsophisticated, being limited by whatever algorithms can be implanted in a small microchip and performed in a fraction of a second.
The good news is that the quality of theatrical 2D-to-3D conversion has improved substantially this year. Recent movies such as Titanic, although not perfect, create a good theatrical experience, and I believe such 2D-to-3D conversion can be an effective tool to create satisfying content while meeting budget requirements. This trend towards better 3D quality and more comfortable experience should continue. Nobody should be making movies that cannot stand on their own even in 2D. One thing is certain: moviegoers will not go to theaters just to watch 3D. They will only go to watch a good movie, and if is done well in 3D, all the better. 3D offers an augmented experience, but it is not a substitute for good content. 3D has to be an important element of the storytelling the same way color, mood, lighting, and other visual effects are used to enhance the experience and effectively communicate the story to audiences.
Lack of understanding of best practices for 3D content creation
Creating good 3D content is not an easy and straightforward process. It requires some additional skills and new techniques. Not all techniques that have been traditionally used in 2D can also be used in 3D. Content has to be created so that it minimizes eye fatigue, and producers need to carefully balance the artistic expression of 3D with viewer comfort. 3D compositions that are very hard for the eye should be minimized. Sports, action scenes, and fast panning all pose various challenges and need to be addressed in different ways to provide the right experience.
No 3D in Smart TVs
The emergence of Smart 3D TVs is probably one of the best things that happened for 3D last year. This opens the door for content creators to easily create and distribute 3D content, and it provides consumers a way to access diverse 3D content including personal and professional photos and videos. I believe it would be best if every Smart TV were 3D capable and vice-versa. It is particularly surprising that not all Smart 3D TVs provide APIs for access to their 3D playback functions. Some manufacturers support both still images and video, some support only one of them and some provide no 3D support at all. TV manufacturers should provide the proper interfaces on their Smart 3D TVs to fully support 3D photos and videos at the highest possible resolution (i.e., 1080p).
There are other contributing factors not mentioned in the list above, primarily because there is very little that can be done about it. The need for wearing glasses, whether active or passive is also one of the main reasons preventing wide proliferation of 3D. However, I believe that the move from active to passive technology and the more comfortable and less goofy design of passive glasses will cause adoption rates to increase substantially. The premature release of auto-stereoscopic panels has also not helped matters, since it created market confusion, and some consumers may decide to opt out until this technology is ready. The problem is that the quality and price points of auto-stereoscopic panels have a long way to go, and I do not see this as an option for larger displays in the near future. I believe such panels were introduced by manufacturers not to gain significant market share but to prevent others from gaining it. In spite these early mistakes, the demand for 3D content continues to grow, and addressing these issues in a timely fashion will further accelerate the pace of 3D adoption.