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3D: Failure to launch

3D was supposed to be the next big thing, so why won't anyone talk numbers?

Avatar was released in 2009, and marked the official mainstream launch of 3D. In June last year Sony PlayStation officially launched its 3D services, supplying free demos of games like Super Stardust HD and Pain, and announcing that big hitters like Killzone 3 and the upcoming Uncharted 3 would be available in stereoscopic 3D.

In December 2010, then SCEE president Andrew House even predicted that the uptake for 3D would be faster than that for HD.

One year on, and while Sony is still keen to publicise its 3D, neither it or the other big manufacturers, Panasonic, Samsung, LG, are willing to release sales figures for the technology, while Nintendo's issues with the 3DS has been well documented. It all suggests that the glorious revolution may not have been all that revolutionary.

In a recent interview with Simon Benson, SCEE's senior development manager, he was ready to talk about the virtues of stereoscopic 3D, but claimed ignorance when asked actual numbers.

Asked what percentage of PlayStation owners were accessing 3D content, Benson, who has worked on 3D for the last two years, said "to be honest I'm not aware of the statistics."

Pushed for sales figures for the Sony Bravia range of 3D TV's, he was equally evasive.

"No. I mean obviously we're Sony Computer Entertainment, so obviously we work closely with the electronics division but it would be rude of us to ask, and even ruder for us to say if we did have those numbers. It's really down to them to say that."

Sony's European press office also failed to answer requests for official figures for sales.

So why all the secrecy? In The Future of 3-D and Internet TV, published in June, analysts SNL Kagan predicted that sales of 3D televisions would actually slow in 2011. It stated that by the end of the year only 1.8 million or 2 per cent of US homes would have a 3D TV. By 2015 still only 15 per cent of homes are expected to have invested.

In cinemas 3D showings have also underperformed. For some of summer's largest blockbusters, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Green Lantern and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, sales of 2D tickets have been higher than those of 3D tickets.

SNL Kagan blamed the high cost of televisions and lack of content for the slow sales, while Panasonic's marketing director Andrew Denham recently blamed 3D movies.

"Hollywood damaged 3D by rushing so many badly converted films out in Avatar's wake. What we need now is the next level, the next Avatar. And that's a big ask, I think."

Whatever is to blame for the uptake of 3D television sets, manufacturer's reticence on the sales figures speak louder about their disappointment than any numbers - especially in the games industry, where publishers are so keen to shout and spin sales numbers and percentages. If they want consumers to invest in 3D TV and 3D gaming they need to start being honest with them, and acknowledge the issues so they can begin to address them.

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Latest comments (12)

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters10 years ago
Since 3D movies are more expensive to see, involve wearing annoying glasses, and generally look blurry, I always opt for the 2D showing if possible. 3D isn't just a feature people haven't got enthusiastic about, it's one that lots actively avoid. When watching a 3D movie I alternate between having tuned out the 3D so I don't notice it any more and forget it's even in 3D, or uncomfortably aware of it because it's not working very well. A complete waste of time.
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Allan Poole Credit Manager, Future Publishing10 years ago
For me, its all about the glasses. It turns the experience into a solitary one, you feel isolated from people around you (not such an issue for games, for for movies and sports, I think its a big problem)

When/if we get glasses free, quality 3D which can be watched from the same viewing angle as today's HDTV's then I think people will buy them in droves.

Nintendo's 3DS issues have nothing to do with the 3D aspect in my opinion, their problem is lack of quality titles and a poor marketing campaign!
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Hasan Dervish Consultant 10 years ago
3D is not a dealbreaker simply because the technology feels dated from day one.
Movies just don't need to be 3D to be fully enjoyed. There's not one person I know that would prefer to see a film in 3D. Even the teens I know prefer 2D and see 3D as an unnecessary gimmick not worth paying extra for.
Okay, I saw Avater in 3D at the IMAX. I was impressed but not so much I thought "WOW!!" It was just another option; one I could very easily do without
Then there's 3D TV, What? they expect everyone to squeeze onto one sofa carefully positioned in front of the screen, then put on these expensive specs'? Sorry, that's just not how people choose to relax and watch TV at home.
Same goes for gaming, the 3D is just too messy to be dealing with when you just want to get stuck into a good gaming session.
The truth no one wants to admit is that 3D was a gimmick too far and always will be.
Sure, there will be a few takers but never enough to have it compete with 'regular' screen experience.
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Show all comments (12)
FOr me, it was all about the story. Often the wow3D effects were not a dealbreaker, and only semi immersive for some action sequences. In reality, it often was adistracting in poorly executed 3D films and a gross coverup of movies lacking all sense of plot, wooden acting, incoherent sense of pace and pricey overall. Look at awesome films like Armageddon, Die hard, The rock, Con Air, Stargate - the budgets were semi restrained but as soon as you gave them stuooooopid amounts of money, it was jsut an excuse for prolonged glorious battles but..all sense of decent pace and plot went out through the loo hole.

2011 for films has been really a flop, although Captain America is pretty ok. Of course, old school directions like Johnston bring that experience to the fore. If there was a global electronic apocalypse tomorrow, could they get rid of all the useless 3D technology or directors thinking of using them so they could get back to basics and tell a wonderful story first, medium second!
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Luke Stephenson Designer 10 years ago
For me the equation was simple. 3D TVs are expensive. Everyone watching it has to wear glasses. It will become obsolete relatively quickly. Manufacturers know that people don't like the restrictive experiences 3D currently offers, even the glasses-free 3DS restricts you to a particular angle with little movement allowed for the effect to work.

Long story short, when 3D is truly glasses free, and works from whatever angle like a 2D TV, it'll be worth the investment, because then it will be accessible, living room friendly and have some staying power. At least until proper holographic tech comes along.

Incidentally the tech I'm most excited about at the moment is the screen that displays different images depending on the angle you view it at. Talk about revolutionizing splitscreen!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Luke Stephenson on 8th August 2011 11:58am

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Peter Dwyer software engineer, openbet10 years ago
I have a state of the art active 3D samsung screen and would give someone elses hind leg to have bought a passive screen instead.

Given the brightness improvements. Ability to view for ages without fatigued eyes or a sudden headache and the fact that you absolutely DON'T notice the slight resolution drop in 3D movies. I think 3D will only take off once passive screens do.

......anyone want an active 3D plasma to swap?
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game10 years ago
Funnilly enough, whilst at the cinema a couple of nights back we saw the trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and my mate commented that although it wasn't in 3D, there is the bit where the apes throw spears towards the screen that looks like it was made considering 3D. This indicates that a year ago or whenever, they thought that any blockbuster released would need to be retrofitted in 3D, but luckily when post production time came it was apparent lazy retrofitted 3D is recieving the indifference it deserves.
Pirates of the Carrabean's 3D just looked like one layer of flat images in front of another layer a lot of the time, other films look really good for 2 scenes and barely noticeable for the other 2 hours.

Transformers was filmed in 3D, and although there was a noticeable improvement in how it looked, I think it was too little too late, it still didn't have the 3D visual punch of Avatar, possibly becuase Michael Bay shot it in 3D because the studio made him, rather than Camaron's obsession with 3D.

If 3D really is in decline, I bet the cinemas are happy they have all converted half their screens now post Avatar.
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Tim Hesse Product Development Executive 10 years ago
3D is a fad, same as it ever was.
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Tameem Antoniades Creative Director & Co-founder, Ninja Theory Ltd10 years ago
Touchscreens never made much sense on desktops. On ipad, its brilliant, intuitive and totally natural. Likewise 3D needs to move away from the Shacles of a Tv/cinema screen interface to one that suits it.
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Tom collins10 years ago
This huge speculative profit bubble that has been created has popped. When the Figures finally get released about the under performance of 3D investors will be pulling out in droves, It was bad while it lasted.
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Patrick Williams Medicine and Research 10 years ago
It is premature to write off 3D because it has barely even started. The bubble hasn't popped for the simple reason it has only begun growing. For anyone with a 3D tv right now, there is a major drought of products to with which to use 3D.

It is only over the next year that we'll see if there might be a market for home 3D because there finally are things coming out. If you look at the list of 3D blu ray movies, they've only begun to come on sale and most are being released later this year. The price point however is disappointing and a disincentive for people waiting for something to purchase... Similarly with gaming, it only really began recently with KZ3 and the 3DS, which itself has almost nothing to offer. Now that Uncharted 3, Gears of War 3, Bioshock Infinity are supporting 3D, we're starting to have products on the line that have the chance to draw people's interests. Similarly with the 3DS, if the price drop can stir some interest and it can stop hemorrhaging titles, we'll see how it compares to other forms of mobile gaming.

Re: Avatar in the movie theatres, you may not have gone "WOW!!" when you saw it, but considering its immense financial success, your response is not representative of the potential interest in the 3D market.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Patrick Williams on 16th August 2011 1:24pm

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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game10 years ago
@Patrick. Most of us did say wow at Avatar (maybe not at the script, but at least at the visuals). After it came out there was massive interest. The problem is in theyear and a half since, not a single other 3D live action film has been any where near as impressive with its use of 3D (some of the animations have been very impressive). The only major release to be filmed in 3D is Transformers 3, apart from that we've had a load of patchy retrofitted movies, and now we are at a point where more people are opting to see them in 2D. Which means more studios will decide its not worth the extra effort and money.
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