3D TV: Not Ready for Prime Time

The way its proponents spin it, 3D will be the next big thing in TV, a gotta-have technology that will pick up where Tivo, hi-def, and Blu-Ray have left off. Someday maybe, but not anytime soon.

A survey released on Feb. 24 by two groups with vested interests in 3D television—the Entertainment Technology Center and the Consumer Electronics Assn.—finds little demand for the new form of video. Just 16% of adults say they’re interested in watching 3D movies or TV shows in their homes. And the numbers go down from there, to 14% who might want 3D video games and 12% who would prefer a 3D version of a movie over 2D.

Sheesh, Congress has numbers twice that high, according to the latest Gallup poll.

The survey sponsors see hope nonetheless. Roughly one of every six respondents, or 17%, say they've seen a 3D movie in a theater in the past year. That works out to nearly 41 million adults. These movie-goers are more into 3D at home: 26% say they'd be interested in playing a 3D video game at home, for instance.

Seeing Coraline, Bolt or My Bloody Valentine in 3D on the big screen, in other words, makes people want to watch TV the same way. (Scroll down on this blog to see a post from my Innovation colleague Jessie Scanlon on how Coraline was made.)

Since Hollywood is bringing out more 3D films--19 are scheduled for release in 2009--and more theaters are installing 3D projectors, this could sell more people on 3D video. As Sanford Climan, chief executive of 3D production house 3ality Digital, told BusinessWeek's Ron Grover recently: "Once you see a picture in 3D, you never want to go back."

Meantime, television makers are showing off 3D sets at trade shows. Samsung, in fact, already has home-theater 3D TVs on the market. Noting the convergence of 3D products and 3D "delivery systems," one of the survey's two chief analysts, David Wertheimer, says: "We have a perfect storm brewing."

Wertheimer, who is CEO of the Entertainment & Technology Center at the University of Southern California, and co-analyst Shawn DuBravac, an economist for the Consumer Electronics Assn., take heart in the answer to another question: More than half of the 1,002 adults polled by phone last December say they'd have no issue with keeping their heads still and wearing special glasses to watch 3D video at home.

"3D for a very long time has been a story about the movie theater," DuBravac tells me. "It's increasingly becoming a home-entertainment story, or at least the potential is there."

Still, the numbers don't scream tipping point to me. As DuBravac and Wertheimer point out in their report, only a minority of adults said they were curious about digital TV a decade ago. But that minority was 40% vs. 16% who might want 3D TV today. Maybe the glasses that 3D proponents are wearing have too much rose tint in them.

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