Get rid of the “TV” from “3D TV”

Get rid of the "TV" in "3DTV" (iStock)Walking around CES, one thing was very clear: The consumer electronics industry is betting big on 3D. Many approach the promise of 3D with a very bullish perspective, but I tend toward a bearish outlook.

3D has a number of obstacles in reaching consumers. For one, consumers are still confused about the HDTV transition, and just as the majority of the market is wrapping their head around the terms and technology, the industry is pushing for exponential layers of complexity. Refresh rates? 3D 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 3D 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, 3D OLED glasses may be the right fit. If they have to be wearing glasses anyways, and primarily watch TV or game alone, a $400 pair of 3D 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 3D may flop entirely (I see the promise of a connected TV and widgets as a much more salient 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 primly 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 “3D extravaganza comic book” are an example of roughly the same technology being implemented in 3D 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.  There was a much greater dimensionality with a stereoscopic viewer and the eyes don’t have to work as hard, because of how close to the face the two images are being displayed.