A couple of months ago I wrote an article on the mistakes the industry has made that have prevented rapid proliferation of 3D. During the past year 3D is clearly going through a transitional phase. The hype is over, improvements in theatrical productions have raised consumer awareness and expectations, and consumers have now a clearer picture of the value they perceive in 3D and what they are willing to spend and do to watch something in 3D. After several months of negative reports covering the future of 3D, its adoption rate, consumer interest, and box office sales, I think it is about time to change course and implement some crucial things to reverse this trend and establish 3D as the entertainment technology for the future. There are several industry segments that need to be involved, and each segment needs to do certain things in parallel so 3D can move beyond the disillusionment phase and quickly enter its enlightenment phase. Here is the list of the top 7 things the industry should do (in no particular order).
1. Studios and Theaters need to offer a more compelling value proposition:
It is remarkable the progress that has been made in the past few years of 3D content creation. Most movies today, whether they are shot in 3D or converted from 2D, provide a very good and pleasant experience. However, the percentage of people going to see 3D movies has been declining in the US. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is price. 3D is not a novelty anymore, and the current premium ticket prices cannot be fully justified. This, in addition to the current economic situation, makes it very difficult for consumers to pay extra to see a 3D version of a film. I think it is time for the studios to reduce the price premium for 3D. One good compromise would be to make 3D children’s’ tickets cost the same as 2D ones, thus alleviating some of the pain for larger families. After all, the cost of capturing or converting to 3D is going down, and they can also encourage movie goers to use their own glasses to reduce costs.
Theaters should create a much more compelling story if they want to maintain higher 3D ticket prices. One good option is to create 3D pre-shows with good content. This could be a documentary, art, still photos, etc. thus creating a much more compelling proposition compared to the silly trivia that they show now. Also, ads within this segment also need to be in 3D to provide a consistent experience. Advertisers unfortunately have not yet been able to realize the power a good 3D message can deliver. I think a 3D show with 3D ads would create a much more compelling reason for consumers to spend more time in the theater to watch a 3D movie and maybe buy more popcorn to spend their extra time.
2. Filmmakers should pay more attention to the third-dimension:
3D is still not deployed properly in most films. Although conversion from 2D to 3D is being done very well today, it reminds me of the addition of color to the original black and white movies decades ago. The colors were not natural and something was just not right. I believe that 3D needs to be part of the story telling and not just an afterthought filling in the other dimension. The same way color, light, mood, temperature, and scenery are used to enhance the experience and complement the story, depth also has to be proportionally weighted into the story. The techniques are well known and easy to implement. Directors need to put at least as much thought into the 3D aspect as they put into other factors mentioned before.
3. Broadcasters should create content better suited for 3D:
Unfortunately, most 3D broadcasting today is focused on sports. This poses some problems due to the high degree of motion and the quick camera panning that is required to capture scenes. Although those things are also not good for 2D, they are much worse in 3D where our brains are much less forgiving. High-frame rates can address some of these problems but there is still no proper equipment to capture this. A couple of months ago, I saw a soccer game in 3D and the experience was very disappointing. Some sports are better suited for 3D and others less. Nevertheless, consumers are getting used to 3D and their expectations are higher. The quality that is delivered is generally not on par with expectations and this is not a good thing.Some solutions for sports would be to reduce zooming, reduce panning and emphasize more 3D in slow motion.
Also I believe that instead of sports, documentaries, science, nature and things that are even more visually appealing in 2D should be the prime drivers to enhance the consumer experience.
4. Camera and Smartphone makers should offer transitional 2D cameras capable of capturing 3D:
Camera makers should offer a mix of solutions for consumers to create their own 3D pictures. The introduction of the FujiFilm 3D cameras a couple of years back was a good addition. The same is true for all the 3D smartphones from LG, Sharp, and HTC. Although the volumes may not be as high as was originally anticipated, these products provided solutions to first adopters and enthusiasts that will drive other consumers later. This strategy should also be complemented with 3D-enabled cameras/smartphones, meaning standard 2D cameras with 3D capability. Such products need to offer good quality, ease of use, minimize limitations on when the user can capture 3D content, and provide a user friendly interface that allows users to easily enable and disable 3D mode. Such cameras, if properly designed, can provide a good alternative for consumers to create their own high-quality 3D images/video and for professional photographers to increase the availability of high-quality 3D content.
5. TV manufacturers should drop 2D-to-3D conversion:
Let’s come now to the 3D TV at home and revisit the biggest blunder the TV manufacturers have made to this point, which has caused a slow adoption rate despite the fact that more and more TVs provide 3D capability. This is the automatic 2D-to-3D conversion. It is a substandard technology - a gimmick that has reduced the consumer appeal of 3D. Recent reports have identified that a significant number of viewers do not enjoy watching 3D on their TVs. I cannot think of any other reason why this can be happening instead of watching automatically converted content. This technology needs to be removed from TVs. Manufacturers can improve their margins by eliminating some chips and they will also do some good for 3D.
6. Smart and 3D HDTVs are the only platform that can enable quick proliferation of 3D content:
Today it is still very difficult to see 3D content. Channels are very few and offer limited content. Consumers need to buy extra Blu-ray players and disks to see a movie that they most likely saw in the theaters already. This is not a good value proposition. I think the best way to distribute 3D content is through the internet using Smart 3D TVs. This could create the perfect infrastructure where professionals and consumers, as well as studios and broadcasters, can create content that can be accessed by any 3D TV. Therefore, it is very important that all high-end TVs are both 3D capable and smart. Also, currently not all TV makers have opened their SDKs for developers to create 3D apps. Manufactures need to open the proper APIs on their SDKs so people can write 3D applications on 3D TVs to access content. Also, the 3D viewing experience increases proportionally to the size of the screen, so large TVs at home provide the perfect medium for consumers to enjoy this new technology.
7. TV manufacturers should support passive-glass technology:
Clearly one of the biggest obstacles for wide proliferation of 3D is the glasses. The presence of any type of glasses poses a market barrier. Active glasses present the biggest barrier since consumers need to wear them, turn them on, charge or replace batteries, etc. This is too much effort for the average consumer, and it is only justifiable when somebody plans to dedicate a large amount of time to sitting in front of the TV. Passive glasses, however, create a much lower barrier since a viewer can just pick them up and wear them, can easily replace them if they break, and can wear them while doing other things as well. I think that passive-glass technology presents a much lower barrier, so all TV manufacturers should improve, support, and adopt this technology since it will take a long time for autostereoscopic panels to deliver good quality at affordable prices.
All the above items will accelerate the following trends which will result in rapid proliferation of 3D:
1. Will increase attendance of 3D at theaters which will make people more familiar with the technology and will motivate them to engage more with 3D at home
2. Will remove bad and suboptimal content that exists today due to 2D-to-3D conversion which prevents consumers from fully enjoying a true 3D experience
3. Will provide users with the devices and tools to create their own personal content which will help them form a close and personal bond with the 3D technology