3D TV Is Dead

It’s official. 3D TV, once heralded as The Future, is now officially only to be referred to in the past tense. Please adjust your vocabulary accordingly. This news is not surprising. In fact, you are probably only surprised in that you assumed 3D’s demise had occurred years ago. When’s the last time you watched a 3D Blu-ray? Well, there you go.

Last year, two major manufacturers still supported 3D TV. This year, they do not; LG and Sony pulled the plugs on their 3D TVs. Samsung, the world’s largest TV manufacturer, saw the writing on the wall a year ago and abandoned 3D, as did Vizio, Sharp, Panasonic, and others. No major TV manufacturer makes a 3D TV anymore. It’s over.

The brief rise of 3D TV can be attributed to the 2009 movie, Avatar. Wildly popular in movie theaters, particularly in 3D form, it convinced other movie-makers to shoot in 3D. Broadcasters optimistically launched their own 3D channels. All this convinced TV manufacturers to embrace 3D TV. This was not a good decision.

Why did 3D TV fail? Ah, let me count the ways. For starters, watching 3D in movie theaters wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Although the “jumping out at you” effect was initially amusing, it wore thin after a while. Add in all the picture quality downsides to 3D, and you get a very mixed bag of pros and cons.

More important, TV makers failed to see that watching TV at home is very different from watching a 3D movie in a theater. In a theater, you don’t mind sitting in a fixed and upright position, looking forward at a screen at a certain angle, and not socializing with other people or generally messing around. You watch the movie for two hours, then the lights go up and you resume normal activity.

The brief rise of 3D TV can be attributed to the 2009 movie, Avatar. Wildly popular in movie theaters, particularly in 3D form, it convinced other movie-makers to shoot in 3D.

But at home, none of those constraints apply. You want to slouch on the futon, lie down, put your head on a pillow, get a weird viewing angle that happens to be comfortable, check your phone, get a snack, socialize, and so on. And you can’t easily do any of those things while wearing 3D glasses. The novelty of seeing a 3D program just wasn’t worth the hassle. Too many people bought a 3D TV, watched a few movies in 3D, showing their friends how it worked, then never bothered to watch 3D again. So-called “glassless 3D” never really materialized. After a peak in 2012, sales dropped year after year.

When a format fails, X number of people get left in the lurch. Next time something new comes along, they remember getting burned and decide to wait and see. So this type of failure is never good for business. But if there is any sunny side to the 3D debacle, it is this: At least 3D discs are still watchable, and 3D TVs can still be viewed in 2D. Bottom line: Consumers paid extra for a feature that has fallen out of favor. So, it could have been worse.

Now that new 3D TVs aren’t being made anymore, the spigot on 3D content will slowly be closed. Time and technology have passed 3D by; acronyms such as OLED, HDR, and 4K/UHD now drive sales. 3D is stigmatized to the extent that manufacturers apparently don’t even have faith in a potential 3D 4K OLED TV. Ironically, those technical improvements let content look terrific, in a way that’s far more realistic than the supposed realism of 3D.

Speaking of realism, it is also ironic that 3D is leaving just as virtual reality is coming. If you thought people looked goofy wearing 3D glasses, just you wait.

Old Ben's picture

The other factor I think you don't mention is that 3D on the small screen doesn't have the same "wow" factor as on the big screen. In a theater, where the screen dominates your view, the 3D can be immersive and cool. On a smaller home screen, your view also includes the wall, your feet (if reclining), etc. The "stuff popping out of the screen" just isn't the same.

I think the other thing that killed it was the expense and proprietary nature of the different systems. Most of the sets used active glasses that were/are proprietary and were $100 each. Most sets only came with one or two sets of glasses, if any. Want to have a family movie night with your spouse and 2 or 3 kids? Please pony up several more hundred dollars.

I wonder if 3D could sort of be saved by essentially giving up control. For the set designs that use active glasses, I have to imagine the costs of including 3D are pretty small. The software for displaying the images is already developed and the transmitter that sends the timing signals to the glasses cannot be that expensive. The manufacturers could standardize the timing signals so that any pair of active glasses could be used and turn the glasses industry over to 3rd party vendors.

davidbe's picture

It's very sad that 3D got dropped by LG after they essentially perfected it with their 4K OLEDs. I feel that could have revived the whole 3D industry except that people did not know about this stunning improvement in 3D because it was never marketed. LG never advertised that they had the best 3D ever made, and TV showrooms didn't demonstrate it even if asked to do so. If they had done so, they would have sold like hotcakes (well, except for the high price, which would definitely interfere).

Everybody who visits my house and sees the 3D on my 4K OLED immediately wants one. Well, sorry, they don't make them any more (I even bought a spare). Even after having this set for a year, my jaw still drops to the floor over the incredible beauty of the 3D on this TV. For me at least, it beats HDR hands down.

I'm very sad that other people will not get the chance to enjoy what I am able to enjoy in my home at any time. It's a real tragedy in my book.

HDTV1080P's picture

The best quality 3-D one can experience is with DLP projectors. DLP projectors in a dual IMAX or single projector 144Hz mode produces flicker free and eye strain free 3-D with much better motion and over all quality when compared to even OLED. Many projectors in 2017 still offer the 3-D feature and also Blu-ray 3-D discs are still being released.

tommygunzz's picture

I think there is a more selfish reason at play here... I think the silent vote (and the valid count) to remove the 3d feature from tv which will ultimately kill the software support over time came from the movie makers themselves... They just don't want to pay for the home conversion knowing that they can't charge a drastically higher premium for the home purchase of the movie. Removing this feature when tv tech has finally caught up is interesting indeed...

witchdoctor's picture

First of all did you research projectors for your article? Still being sold,not dead,duh. 3D has been assimilated by 4K no surprise if you are buying a TV. As for 3D BlueRays many BRD players have a conversion feature where you push a button and a 2D BRD converts to 3D. For example I just watched Roger Waters The Wall in Dolby Atmos in 3D. I didn't need to buy a 3D BRD my Sony UHPH1 has a 3D conversion feature and BAM you are there in 3D. BTW, 3D and Atmos were born to be together. Why not have 3D sound AND picture. It blew the 2D version away. Next there is a streaming service called VUDU that lets you stream 3D movies. Watch a movie like Godzilla or Live Die Repeat in 3D and it works great. Want to double the intensity use a 3D movie and add a Dolby Surround or Auromatic upmixer.

PaulRS's picture

Mr. Pohlmann, I've been reading you for over 25 years, going back to the days of Wayne Green's DIGITAL AUDIO & COMPACT DISC REVIEW. I've read many pieces like this purporting to declare 3D TV "dead" and they're all usually problematic. The "debacle" (overcooked word choice) has not been 3D per se, but rather the lack of standardization in things such as glasses (active vs. passive), the frequency at which they operate and the method of transmission of the synchronization signal from display to glasses.

Perhaps most problematic in this piece is the following sentence: "3D is stigmatized to the extent that manufacturers apparently don’t even have faith in a potential 3D 4K OLED TV." To the extent 3D has been stigmatized, it has stemmed from problematic articles just like this in the audio/video press. I would argue that you're putting the cart before the horse here: The manufacturers could very well include 3D if they wished to do so in today's displays. It seems to me an a priori decision has been made not to do so because of HDR and WCG being the new kids in town to throw marketing dollars at, not because of any lack of "faith" in 3D. Companies generally speaking are agnostic: They'll have "faith" in anything that can make them money. And clearly there is still an audience for 3D at home in terms of an installed base of 3D BD and 3D display owners. We even have an online rental service in 3D-BlurayRental.com. I would argue 3D TV was *sabotaged* by nattering nabobs of negativity in the press which thereby caused it to be stigmatized.

I could go on. And I'm happy to see that other readers have brought up that 3D projectors are an ongoing concern, hardware that is disproportionately attractive to the home theater hobbyist community that this publication ostensibly serves. Which brings me to my broader point: When the software and hardware are still out there for folks to enjoy, what is the point of writing this kind of article purporting to declare the "death" of 3D when said article is being read moreso by guys who know its premise not to be true in the mainstream press?