Friday, January 08, 2010

3-D: Industry Savior or "Flavor of the Month"?

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week in Las Vegas, 3-D is everywhere. Sony, Panasonic and others showed LCD and plasma displays and Blu-Ray players that will support 3-D. Panasonic even showed a non-working prototype of a $20,000 camcorder capable of shooting 3-D content. ESPN and a consortium of Discovery, Sony and IMAX both announced plans for 3-D cable channels. The problem, however, isn't the technology (although the issue of 3-D formats needs to be resolved) but rather, how the technology is used.

If 3-D isn't shot very carefully, it usually becomes a brain-liquefying (and headache-inducing) experience. Both the right tools and the right technique are essential. If you think that it's tough for filmmakers to produce watchable 2-D movies and television shows, wait until they try to work in 3-D.

There's a very good chance that 3-D has become the consumer electronics industry's latest "flavor of the month". Blu-Ray was intended to save the industry, compensating for lost revenues from the decline in DVD player prices and encouraging consumers to pay more for Blu-Ray discs. That hasn't happened so far, thanks in large part to the recession, nor is it likely to happen in the future. However, 3-D could be the savior of Blu-Ray. It could even get people to replace earlier-generation HDTV displays with new models capable of the high refresh rates and resolution needed for 3-D. Or at least, that's what the industry hopes.

I can't help but think that 3-D is going to have the same impact as Blu-Ray has had or even less. Consumers are flocking to $1 a night Redbox DVD rentals, or they're turning to digital downloads and streaming video. 3-D technology is still about five years from being practical in everyday production, and if the industry tries to push out products too quickly, the most likely things that it's likely to stimulate sales of are headache remedies.
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