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The rise and fall of 3D TVs

While no new 3D TVs have been introduced in the last few years, the question remains afloat if they can make a successful comeback in the future.

In cinemas, modern 3D projection has been a game-changer. The hype surrounding 3D began after the release of Avatar’s large screening in 2009. So, it stood to reason that if home TVs could offer the same experience, it would be met with an equal amount of enthusiasm. The breakout hit of the Consumer Electronics Show in 2010 was a 3D television set. The Toshiba Cell TV was the most exciting new thing in technology. Its Cell TV was certainly not the lone 3D TV at CES 2010. Sony, Panasonic, LG, and Samsung, all brought their spin on the decade’s big new breakthrough, making January 2010 an inflection point for 3D TVs.

The industry had lined up a vision of the future, with marketing executives and product managers insisting that the more they had created was also better. Five years later, 3D TV seems to be dead. Despite a huge push into 3D by virtually every TV manufacturer, 3D TV seems to have failed!

Why did it die?

At present, no 3D TVs are being made. Most manufacturers stopped making them in 2016. A number of factors played their role.

When 3D TV was introduced in 2010, most consumers were not ready to abandon their newly purchased DTVs, because of the fact that from 2007 to 2009, the consumers had actively switched to digital viewing, when television broadcasting switched from analog to digital. While 2010 marked the year 3D TVs became mainstream, it was already clear by 2013, that the technology was in trouble.

Different manufacturers backed different 3D TV formats and technologies, meaning one set of glasses would not necessarily work on a competitor’s set. Realizing that some consumers might not want to purchase all the other gear, needed for a true 3D viewing experience, the manufacturers decided to include the capability of 3D TVs to perform real-time 2D-to-3D conversion. Although this allowed consumers to watch existing 2D content in 3D right out the box, the 3D viewing experience was inferior to viewing native 3D.

When creating 3D TVs, the technology for increasing the luminous flux in 3D TVs was not included; as a result, the 3D image turned out much dimmer than the 2D image. However, what is ironic is that with the introduction of HDR technology in 2015, TVs began to be made with increased light-output capability. This would have benefited the 3D viewing experience, but in a counter-intuitive move, the manufacturers shifted their efforts on implementing HDR, and improving 4K resolution performance, without keeping 3D in the mix.

Another setback was the decision not to include 3D into 4K standards, so, by the time the 4K ultra HD Blu-ray disc format was introduced in late 2015, there was no provision for implementing 3D on 4K ultra HD Blu-ray discs, and no indication from movie studios to support such a feature.

What the end of 3D TV means going forward

In the short term, there are still millions of 3D TVs in use around the world (3D TV is still big in the US, China, and to some extent in Europe), so content will still continue to be released on 3D Blu-ray for the near future. In fact, even though 3D is not a part of the ultra HD Blu-ray disc format, most players play 3D Blu-ray discs.

Looking at the long term, 3D TV could make a comeback. The technology can be re-implemented any time and modified for 4K, HDR, or other TV technologies, if TV manufacturers, content providers, and TV broadcasters wish it to be so. Also, the development of glasses-free (no-glasses) 3D continues, with ever-improving results.

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