Is 3-D Really The Future?

Megan commented earlier on the news that Sony is jumping on the 3-D bandwagon. After some of its rivals have announced a commitment to making TVs capable of displaying 3-D video, Sony also intends to do so too -- by the end of 2010. If 3-D technology really is the next big thing, then that's a wise move. Megan thinks so. I think she might be right, though I agree that the market embracing the technology could still be quite a ways off.

Let me preface this by saying that I am totally one of those people who loves the latest technology. I recently (finally) crumbled to the Blu-ray pressure and purchased one to go with a new Hi-Def LCD TV. The picture is so perfect that it's almost creepy.

3-D might seem like the next innovation in television picture. I have seen several movies in 3-D and think that it's also very, very cool. Yet, 3-D film technology isn't exactly new. The Times Online notes:

Sony's plans to venture into the domestic consumer market come 115 years after the 3D film process was patented by the British film pioneer William Friese-Greene.

So is now really, finally, 3-D's hour? For home theaters, I don't know that I'm convinced. First off, not that many films are currently being produced in 3-D. And even some of the major films that utilize 3-D only do so for a short portion of the movie. To my knowledge virtually no television is broadcast in 3-D. Video games might be the easiest market to convert over, but then you're really only appealing to a small portion of gamers out there who care enough to spend thousands on new 3-D compatible TVs.

Right now, the market doesn't seem to really necessitate a 3-D television. Of course, this could be a sort of chicken-egg problem. Maybe once televisions that embrace the technology are available, 3-D media will explode. That could be true. While 3-D might be ridiculously cool to watch sports in, for example, I'm not sure television producers are anywhere near ready to invest in the infrastructure required. After all, HD is just beginning to be fairly widespread, and now you're asking them to scrap all that equipment for newer technology?

And I have just one more doubt: do people really want to sit and watch TV with 3-D glasses on? The Times Online explains:

Sony is planning to use "active shutter" technology, which uses electronic glasses containing small shutters that blink rapidly in time with a television image to create a three-dimensional effect.

Some other types of 3-D require glasses that work with polarization techniques. But the theme is the same: glasses are required. To my knowledge, 3-D isn't possible without them. As much as I love the technology for a movie once in a while, I can't see watching all, or even most TV in my own home while wearing 3-D glasses. But maybe I'm wrong, and one day wearing such spectacles will seem second nature, once 3-D has swept the world.

Even if 3-D is the future, I would be pretty surprised if 3-D televisions became popular even in the next decade. It took at least that long for HD to become robust enough in its offerings to become the new standard. 3-D could eventually succeed, but I'm not convinced it will do so in the near or medium-term.