In 2009, director James Cameron made people love seeing 3D movies in the theater again. In 2010, electronics companies began offering the first in-home stereoscopic 3D TV sets, and content providers launched Blu-ray 3D and broadcast 3D channels.
Now it's 2011, and there are still big changes happening in the 3D space, but there's one major source of media and entertainment that hasn't really come a-knocking to the 3D door yet.
It's surely only a matter of time before the Web starts going to a new dimension.
Early 3D Troubles
Despite all of the 3D stuff going on in the consumer electronics market these days, advances may be coming a little too fast for some consumers. 3D TV sales last year were below expectations for manufacturers like Samsung, which threw considerable weight behind the new format. Many consumers shied away from this expensive new format that had almost no content.
Despite that, many are starting to take a different path. One of the emerging trends is glasses-free 3D technology, also known as "autostereoscopic 3D." LG has introduced a new iPad rival, the G-Slate, which can produce images that have the sense of depth, without the need for users to wear glasses. But something like that can only have high appeal if there is compelling content.
Obviously, 3D TV programming and Blu-ray 3D movies are out of the question there, so 3D content on the Internet would perhaps be the most compelling selling point.
Aside from glasses-free 3D tablets, computer makers that are manufacturing 3D hardware are finding it difficult to advertise exclusive 3D content. 3D computers are selling even worse than 3D TVs. At this point, it's up to online content providers to step up to the plate and bring this home media revolution to the cyber world.
Adding 3D to the Web
This isn't a completely new idea. There have been limited 3D streaming events online. NASCAR helped bring some of its races last year to 3D computer viewers via an exclusive online stream that was not broadcast on any 3D TV network. For the most part, though, 3D hasn't penetrated the Net.
"Internet content providers don't want to spend resources creating 3D content unless there are a lot of people with Internet-connected 3D devices," she noted. "But by the same token, people don't want to buy expensive 3D devices unless there's a lot of 3D content."
Realistically, Cressman said, it's the content providers who need to make the first move. However, that might be an easier proposition for the Internet than it is for a traditional movie studio or satellite provider. Current 3D pioneers like DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) and ESPN have had to not only buy new 3D video equipment and transmission technologies, but they have to lobby advertisers to make 3D commercials and help manufacturers market their 3D hardware.
It's Not As Easy As It Sounds
For an Internet company, the only thing required is content. Distribution is easy, as Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff pointed out.
"The technology is there. Adobe (Nasdaq: ADBE) and Roxio have 3D video software, and there are already affordable 3D cameras on the market," Bernoff told TechNewsWorld. However, he said, there is still a hurdle with getting consumers to buy the hardware. "Sluggish sales of 3D TVs are sending a clear message that consumers don't really want 3D content in their homes, at least not yet."
That could be the message, or it could just be that consumers are confused by the whole 3D technology revolution. After all, there are a lot of things to consider when getting a 3D setup. It's not as easy as when the HD shift happened -- back then, consumers needed to buy an HDTV and an appropriate set of cables.
Now, they have to buy a 3D TV and 3D glasses that are made by the same manufacturer as the TV -- that is, if you buy a stereoscopic 3D TV. However, if you buy a Cinema 3D TV, like the one currently available from Vizio, you can buy any set of passive 3D glasses. Then again, there are new 3D TVs coming out that don't require any glasses. And to watch a Blu-ray 3D movie, you can't use any old Blu-ray player; you need one that specifically has 3D functionality.
Unfortunately, that same confusion applies to computers as well, with some displays that require 3D glasses and some that don't.
Also, many consumers have eye conditions that simply don't allow them to see 3D effects at all.
"Before launching, did [3D TV manufacturers] know that the thing can actually make roughly 20 percent of the audience sick to their stomachs? Did they take into account that an overwhelming majority of consumers say they are not interested in 3D TV? Or, at least, paying premium prices to bring one home?" said TVPredictions.com President Phillip Swann.
"If TV makers don't slow this train down, 3D TV could become the biggest -- and most costly -- mistake in the history of consumer electronics," he told TechNewsWorld.
Too Big to Fail?
In the end, it may be this variety of formats that kills 3D, but no one seems to want to stop trying. 3D is not a fad, Cressman contended, but merely a format experiencing growing pangs.
"There are a lot of problems with 3D in the marketplace, but with the entire consumer electronics and content industries in extreme support of it, there's no way it will die," she said.