January 11, 2011

3D TV - Why Me?

3D television has been the rage of two Consumer Electronics Shows now, but it still hasn't caught on with the consumer. Apparently adding little to living room entertainment while transparently providing manufacturers another opportunity to sell expensive televisions, the technology leaves consumers asking, "why?" Television makers have gotten used to a higher level of income after several years of selling flat-panel, wide-screen televisions. The trouble for them is that a recently-bought television is unlikely to be replaced in the ten years after its purchase. And with wide-screen television prices easily double what you'd have paid for a shiny, new model just a half-decade ago, it'll be quite the income withdrawal for manufacturers as consumers sit back and enjoy their new-ish purchase. But 3D TV is more than just a marketing ploy, it's the evolution of display technology that brings remote and time-shifted viewing closer to a live, in-person experience. Think back, if you can, to the days of black-and-white television. We had all the structural components of a live image (and by live I mean an image captured by your eye as the action happened, in front of you, that moment), sans color. You could watch that image all day long and miss none of the event's import. The introduction of color to the televised image was a revelation, as though a veil had been lifted. Locations looked more real, people appeared more natural. A few years later it was hard to imagine watching anything but color television programming. The introduction of a high-definition picture was another revelation. Actors were suddenly near life-sized on much larger displays, and the added image sharpness gave it an almost three-dimensional appearance. A few short months later it was unthinkable that we could have enjoyed a football game, let alone the Super Bowl, on a blurry, 32-inch tube. These changes involved the addition of more information. We added color bits to the structural elements of a moving, black-and-white image. We added more content bits to the standard-definition image, making the appearance even more life-like. Lesson: more information is better. What television manufacturers have done most recently is add yet more information to flesh out the third dimension, making a high-definition, almost-alive image step out from the flat screen. Not revolutionary, just evolutionary. Once technology emerges to integrate the third dimension without need for eyewear (or a headache, or sitting directly in front of the television) consumers will jump on it, and a year or two later we'll wonder how we enjoyed sporting events, a movie, or a sitcom without it. Imagine Planet Earth in comfortable 3D. How soon until you're decorating your garage with your old hi-def tv? I'm surprised to be in favor of this new technology, though not enthusiastic enough to buy into it today. What will it take to bring the third dimension into our living rooms without goofy eyewear? Hologram projectors? Imagine sitting in your media room, walls painted midnight-blue or black, dark carpet and furnishings eliminating visual distraction as you peer across the room, through a three-dimensional, high resolution image as though sitting in a theater-in-the-round. Three-dimensional audio could be generated by an array of small speakers in the ceiling, rounding out the illusion that the event is live inside your home. Would that be worth the price of an upgrade?

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