Thursday, January 20, 2011

The video industry is currently in transition from 2D to 3D in much of the same way as it transitioned from b/w to colour over half a century ago

The stories from the consumer electronics show that was recently held in Las Vegas indicate that the industry is investing heavily on 3D video technology. However, many consumers (including myself) are very skeptical about the transition. Although many cinemas are proudly boasting about the many new movies that they have available in 3D, the quality of the experience is not brilliant. Part of the reason that the electronics manufacturers are getting excited about 3D is because the cost of the equipment is dramatically higher. I think that most consumers will be waiting for the price to reduce and quality to improve before they decide to invest. In addition there is hardly any content available for 3D devices (not surprisingly because who would bother producing content that nobody has a device capable of consuming it).

At first glance you might think I am pessimistic about the chances of 3D video taking off, but since I am old enough to remember the transition from black & white TV to colour I can see many parallels.

  • I was a young child in the 1960s. At this time cinemas had completed the transition from black & white to colour and virtually all movies were released in colour. This is similar to the current situation where 3D is taking off in the cinema, but not yet in homes.
  • When I was young, colour TV had been invented, but very few people had purchased them because the cost was so much higher than the black and white version. Most TV stations broadcast the bulk of their content in b/w format with only occasional programs in colour (partly because very few of their viewers would notice). This is similar to the current situation where some but not all movies are available in 3D format.
  • Gradually all TV stations converted to colour broadcasting and consumers gradually converted to colour receivers. However even up to the 1980s they had to take into account that a significant number of viewers would be watching in b/w format e.g. if a football match was being broadcast between two teams who had jerseys that looked similar in b/w one of the teams would be asked to change. I wonder how long it will be before a movie will consider it OK to have a key plot line that would be missed by anyone watching in 2D!

Therefore I think that 3D video will eventually catch on, but the transition will take decades rather than years. After all, I don't think that it is possible to purchase a black & white TV anymore.

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