3D – An Obituary

Well, if the US and UK box office is telling us anything, is that the current fad for 3D Movies is drawing to a close. More people are choosing to watch their movies in boring old widescreen 2D than stick on a pair of ridiculously clunky glasses and give their optical nerves a good old assault and/or seizure.

The problem isn’t that 3D is going to go away – it is that it isn’t. There was once a time when consumers were the ones who drove demand and studios followed – hence the trend for movies we have now, and the very different styles at differing times of the year. However, despite the fact that 3D tech isn’t actually that advanced over what we had in the 60’s (really, it isn’t) it’s incredibly expensive. Movie theatres have spent millions installing the screens to show 3D movies. The movie studios have spent hundreds of millions on the equipment to record in 3D – and oftentimes, that’s only available to one movie, maybe two. The rest being shown in 3D have been digitally altered, or “retrofitted”, to be 3D. They push it because they’ve spent so much on it that there is no recourse, no way back. Even in spite of overwhelmingly bad box office figures for the 3D versions, they have made their beds and are suitably having to lie in them.

And to gaming. 3D is over before it even really got started, with Sony revising down their plans for 3D games (there will be 3D games on the PS3, but not quite as many as were hyped up). Microsoft have no plans to go 3D, and Nintendo have conceded – along with millions of gamers – that the stereoscopic 3D nonsense in the 3DS was entirely unnecessary and probably detrimental to the machines battery life.

The truth is, gamers are snobs. We are, I hold my hands up on this – and as much as they want to market it, all we will see in 3D Gaming is the bitter failure of the technology to advance anywhere – we’re still wearing glasses because the technology is just a more refined version of what we’ve had for decades. Without the glasses and at angles, the effect is broken. The 3DS using stereoscopic 3D (remember those holographic cards you used to have as a kid in cereal boxes and sweet packets? That was an early precursor – similar concept.) isn’t a way forward as the viewing sweet spot is… pathetically bad. Really awful.

So why keep pushing it if consumers are clearly saying “We don’t want it!”?

Well, there’s probably a sense that the suits on high feel if we’re told enough, we’ll be convinced in the end. But then, the suits on high felt that HD-DVD vs BluRay was going to decide the next true media format, and even though BluRay was the winner by a country mile on that one – it accounts for about a fifth of movie sales. What do the rest of movies get sold in? Some are sold digitally, but the vast majority are simply plain, bog-standard DVD.

There’s also a sense of “What next?”. The fact some developers with middleware solutions want a next-gen is also linked in with the push for 3D. There’s a sense that we’re bordering now as far as we can go, so rather than really wait for and prepare for that next gigantic leap they just want to twiddle with what we currently have and try and make as much money on that as they can. The next true leap – even for 3D – will cost consumers a good three thousand of their hardest earned crispies. Consumers won’t swallow that. Even the people running the shows at the top know that. So we’re just circling the pond, trying to see HD visuals in a different way – even though there’s absolutely no point in it.

But pushing 3D because there’s nothing else to push is a bad business strategy and even Nintendo have realised that the biggest flaw with the 3DS is, simply, the 3D. Consumers aren’t stupid – regardless of what the industry wants to paint them as. We’ve all just pulled into the HD era with affordable 1080p screens (a good 32-inch now costs about £200, with a built-in DVD player £250), and the gaming world is already busy exploring the concepts available with Kinect, the Wii U controller and the PS Move. We’re happy to move into HD now. Nintendo were smart with the Wii – they’ve waited for the HD era to really kick off in earnest before putting their money into it with the Wii U. A smarter move than the 3DS, that’s for sure.

Consumers are perfectly okay with HD. And maybe BluRay will start to pick up now in taking advantage of that situation – finally justifying the many millions of dollars that Sony spent pushing it as the HD standard. But 3D? It’s just HD with glasses on that can in a lot of people induce headaches. And let us not forget that there is over 10% of the audience out there that simply can’t see 3D – stereoscopic or in glasses. That’s an unacceptable margin for error in any industry, let alone one that is trying to push new visual technology to the mass market.

The majority of consumers – and gamers – don’t want gimmicks. If everyone is happy with HD and 1080p, they’ll stay there. And try as the studios might, try as the developers might, try as the technological progressers might – you simply can’t force technology in this manner. It’s an expensive lesson for them to learn. And yes, they will keep trying to push it – but no-one will care.

The horse is long dead. We’re no longer interested in helping them beat it.

But we should not mourn. This expensive lesson is one that must be learned – technological novelties can never be paraded as progress.

We’ll see right through it.

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