CES 2010

Don't Focus on the 'TV' in 3-D TV

Save on the Upgraded Screen; Just Get the Glasses

By Published on .

Josh Lovison
Josh Lovison
Walking around the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, one thing was very clear: The consumer electronics industry is betting big on 3-D. Many see abundant promise in bringing 3-D to the living room, but those betting on a complicated TV-plus-glasses setup are ignoring a dirty little secret: You don't need a new TV to get a 3-D experience.

3-D has plenty of other obstacles in reaching consumers. For one, consumers are still confused about the HDTV transition, and just as the majority of the market is wrapping its head around the terms and technology, the industry is pushing for exponential layers of complexity. Refresh rates? 3-D channels? Glasses? And that last one is perhaps the biggest hurdle.

As I went from booth to booth, I kept looking at the displays of the 3-D TVs and asked myself the same question, "Why the heck do I need those glasses?" (I know the technical answer -- but it was more an emotional response to the idea presented.) Finally, at the fifth booth highlighting the solution, I started to think, "If they convince me to wear those glasses, isn't the real question 'Why the heck do I need the TV?'"

For a significant population of consumers, 3-D OLED glasses may be the right fit. If they have to be wearing glasses anyways, and primarily watch TV or play a game alone, a $400 pair of 3-D glasses might be the perfect solution for the 18-24-year-old crowd. And if those became popular, someone would shortly add a camera and create an augmented reality experience layered into the device -- in fact, Vuzix had a pair of AR glasses at their booth.

I still think that 3-D may flop entirely (I see the promise of a connected TV and widgets as a much more compelling selling point to consumers). But if it does become successful, and the electronics companies can convince consumers to watch TV wearing glasses, I think, for a segment of consumers, the eyewear will replace the TV. Keep an eye on Oakley -- they are well-positioned for this, considering the investment they've made in optics and video technology for the RED camera line.

To put this in perspective, think back to the childhood versions of these two solutions. The red-and-blue glasses that came with a "3-D extravaganza comic book" are an example of roughly the same technology being implemented in 3-D TVs today. The TV (or comic book) sends out images for both the left and right eye, and the glasses are needed to separate the signals. Compare this experience with the View-Master experience, which is the equivalent of self-contained 3D glasses. A stereoscopic views allows a greater depth of field and less eye strain because of how close to the face the two images are being displayed.

In short, you don't need a new TV to get 3-D, just a pair of souped-up glasses and an update on some decades-old video technology. If 3-D has any hope, it's not in getting consumers to replace their brand-new HD sets; it's getting them to purchase some high-end glasses. Think of it: Of all the TVs coming to market this year, they're wearing those silly things anyway.

Josh Lovison is the gaming and mobile lead at IPG's Emerging Media Lab.
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