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How Studios, Theaters and TV Manufacturers All But Killed 3D

17 Mar, 2014 By: Todd Erwin, Home Theater Forum

When CES 2014 ended, I half-expected to see an obituary for 3D from the press. Some TV manufacturers (such as Vizio) eliminated 3D as a feature on their 2014 models, while others (such as Panasonic) reduced the number of models with this feature. Though the number of 3D movies being released to theaters hasn’t quite diminished, the number of screens and showings has, with some of the smaller exhibitors (Starlight Cinemas chain in Southern California) getting out of 3D altogether. Some say the nail in the coffin came when Disney opted to forego the release of a 3D Blu-ray edition of one of its most successful animated films in years, Frozen (although the title is available on 3D digitally). How did we get to this point and is 3D really dead?

■ 3D-Capable Televisions Arrived Too Late: Samsung and Panasonic debuted their 3D televisions in 2010. By then close to 65% of U.S. households had already upgraded to HDTV and didn’t plan on upgrading again for at least another five years.

■ High Cost of Active-3D Glasses With No Universal Standard: When 3D TVs first arrived at retail, most sets came with one pair of 3D glasses. Up until the 2013 model year, most Panasonic active-3D sets shipped without glasses. If a customer needed more, the cost was typically around $100 each. Costs have dropped considerably for some manufacturers (Samsung’s glasses sell for $19.99 for battery operated, $49.99 for rechargeable), but Panasonic’s are still quite high at $69.99. What’s worse is that when many of the manufacturers introduced new and improved glasses, they were not backward-compatible with prior-model year TVs.

■ Public Perception of Limited Content: When I tell people I have a 3D-capable TV, they often ask why I bothered, since there’s little content. If you look, you will find it. Most people are unaware that Netflix has many movies available in 3D on its streaming service. Walmart’s streaming service, Vudu, has several titles available in 3D, as does PlayStation Network. Many cable and satellite services offer pay-per-view movies in 3D. None of this is very well publicized, hence the public perception. One thing that did get a lot of public attention, though, was the announcement of ESPN 3D going off the air, with most 3D naysayers proclaiming it was the public’s rejection of 3D. My opinion is that most people didn’t want to watch that same old game over and over again.

■ High Cost of Content: It’s understandable 3D Blu-ray titles were around $50 when the format launched. Nearly four years later, most 3D Blu-rays still have an MSRP of $49.99.

■ 3D Surcharge at the Local Cineplex: I still do not understand the reason for this, although I used to think it was to pay for the glasses. What is even more confusing is the variance in this surcharge. Most Regal Cinemas locations charge $4 more, as do AMC and Cinemark. But the smaller chains charge a lot less, some as low as $2. This surcharge often brings ticket prices in excess of $19.

■ Too Many Bad 3D Conversions: I’ve seen some great 3D conversions of films originally shot in 2D. The Nightmare Before Christmas stands as one of the best. But other, poorer conversions, soured the 3D experience for many moviegoers. What the studios don’t understand is the public is rejecting bad 3D.

So, is 3D dead? It is definitely in a state of decline, but not down for the count. I prefer to say 3D is going into hibernation, waiting for James Cameron’s much-anticipated “Avatar” sequels to help give 3D its much-deserved comeback.

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About the Author: Todd Erwin

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