Posted on 2:12 pm on June 13, 2013 by

Does 4K really mean the end of 3D glasses?

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Prince Charles with 3D Glasses

The increased resolution and picture quality of 4K could be the shot in the arm 3D needs and what finally brings it into our homes, en masse.

The first 3D TV sets went on sale in the UK in April 2010, following in the wake of cinematic 3D releases such as Avatar. 3D was billed as the next big thing, an immersive entertainment experience that would bring film and TV to life in the home. But the technology failed to capture the TV viewing public’s imagination as much as expected.

There’s been no shortage of content. A slew of films are available in 3D on blu-ray, both new and retro-fitted 3D re-releases of old blockbusters such as Titanic and Top Gun. In the UK, SKY launched 3D sport, film and TV channels.

However, despite this sales of 3D TVs have fallen well short of what was expected. Why?

Well, there has always been the argument that 3D TV was simply a ruse, cooked up by TV manufacturers and Hollywood to sell more TVs and Blu-ray discs. At the time, sales of flat-screen HD TVs and DVDs had reached a plateau, takings in the box office were sinking – they needed a new gimmick.

For them 3D made sense. The technology is pretty simple so it took very little effort for manufacturers and filmmakers to switch to 3D production. It also has a very clear differentiator. Cue a massive marketing push and loads of new sexy TVs.

But manufacturers couldn’t really convince anyone they actually wanted 3D. It was seen as a novelty and consumers just didn’t seem that interested in it. Firstly, they had to buy expensive new TVs, in many cases not long after they’d just forked out to upgrade to an HDTV.

And, then there were the glasses.

The idea of sitting on the sofa wearing special glasses to watch TV really didn’t float many people’s boats. Sure it was very clever but did it really enhance the viewing experience enough to warrant the expense and the inconvenience of the glasses? For most consumers, the answer was no.

By this year, 3D appeared to be effectively dead with very few companies showing anything at events like NAB Show and CES. And content providers, certainly in broadcast have started pulling away. ESPN recently announced that it would be closing its 3D channel at the end of the year due to lack of take up by subscribers.

Instead it’s all about 4K. That’s where ESPN for one is moving its resources and where manufacturers are focusing.

So does this necessarily mean the death of 3D for good? Maybe not. 4K could turn out to be the unsung hero in adoption of 3D technology.

The Reason? The resolution of 4K could make glasses-free 3D a genuine possibility. The extra pixels provide a way of delivering the 3D experience without specialist glasses by being able to show two stereoscopic pictures at once and doing clever things with lenticular lenses to show them to each eye (although this means the resulting picture is only 1080p resolution).

Toshiba were the first company to get to market with a glasses-free 3D TV and other manufacturers such as Phillips and Vizio have demoed their own versions.

However, some have argued that even without extra trickery, the draw distance 4K is capable of creates a depth of field that produces a “3D-like” experience. If that’s enough for viewers, then maybe there is no need for ‘real’ 3D?

It’s yet to be seen if 4K will take off with consumers. There are as many naysayers as there are supporters of the format, and the issues of distributing the content to homes are still to be resolved. But if it does, then the immersive experience we’ve been promised for years could finally happen.

What do you think? Would you buy a 3D tv that didn’t require glasses are you waiting for the next big thing? Let us know in the comments below.


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