MADISON, Wis. -- I wasn’t surprised by ESPN’s tweet earlier this month, in which they subtly mentioned their plan to drop their costly 3-D TV channel later this year. Hey, who could be surprised?
I was a little surprised, however, by the industry’s dogged insistence that the yet-to-be Ultra High Definition TV market won’t at all resemble the fate of 3DTV. “Chances are the lessons from 3-D’s broken promises will lead to a brighter future for 4K,” wrote Sweta Dash, senior director, Display Research & Strategy, IHS, in her commentary post at www.electronics360.net earlier this year.
Wait a minute. What lessons did the consumer electronics industry exactly learn from their fatal 3-D TV push?
Did they learn not to ignore the consumer’s natural reluctance to put on “equipment” (those uncomfortable 3-D glasses) just to watch TV?
Do they now know that it’s tough — regardless of the industry’s well-orchestrated marketing machine — to change consumers’ basic behavior?
Or do they understand now that new TV technology (be it 3-D or UHDTV) demands rich, abundant, varied, appropriate and affordable “content” (thus giving the consumer the impression that his purchase is worth the money) to be truly ubiquitous? Premium content that can be viewed on a few selective channels and Blu-ray disks won’t cut it, because as long as these devices are called “TV” sets, consumers expect 3-D or UHDTV programming to be freely available over the air.
But above all, I wonder if the industry really gets this: TV manufacturers’ desperation to grow their business (and not lose money on every set they sell) doesn’t justify their optimism that consumers, too, will buy into it.
Setting aside my own prejudices, I set out to ask market analysts what they thought the industry has learned from 3-D’s latest nosedive. Then, I asked them to make the case for why they believe UHDTV is a whole different story.
Why 3-D failed
IHS’s Dash summed it up by pointing out “a lack of content, high pricing and inconvenient technology” as the reasons why 3-D never emerged from a niche status.
Ben Arnold, NPD Group’s director of industry analysis, agreed.
Wearing 3-D glasses “was getting in the way of consumers’ content consumption,” he noted. Further, “it was confusing to consumers where they can get 3-D content. The availability of content was very fragmented.” Consumer education and marketing was another issue, he said. “Many consumers did not understand that you can use 3-D TV for everyday TV viewing without using 3-D glasses.”
Just to add that the idea that apparent screen resolution goes down with distance isn't hogwash, just that I think the charts that get sent around the Internet suggesting sitting distances for various screen resolutions severely underestimate human perception.
Heck if you follow these charts then you shouldn't be able to read the text on a 1080 21" screen on your computer.
I saw a 4K display while passing a showroom in a mall and had to stop. It was, indeed, stunning.
And I've seen these charts spread around the Internet showing optimal sitting distance for screens of various resolutions. That's probably where this '4K would look best on a TV screen at least 60 inches in diagonal' comes from. After looking at this screen I'm convinced that these charts are complete hogwash. I don't think the screen I saw was 60", and the clarity compared to the 1080p screen nearby was amazing even from pretty far away. My kids, with much better eyes than I have, noticed it without my prompting (and without me telling them what a 4k screen was).
Netflix has announced that they are planning on including 4K videos. And I don't know why our over-the-air broadcasters don't put out a 4k signal. Many people don't realize that in addition to the digital television standard, there's an MPEG4 standard for portable television that many are broadcasting, but I don't think anyone is receiving. They could repurpose these channels for an HEVC 4K signal and over-the-air broadcasting could be revitalized.