4 Reasons Why 3D TV Is Years Away From Adoption

    by Joel Delman
    May 18, 2010
    People test out a 3D television from LG. Image via Wikipedia

    After a multi-decade struggle, 3D is finally catching on in theatres.

    It was a challenge for 3D movies to get where they are today, but I’d say the studios (and theater operators) are finally calling it a success. All the pieces have come together, spurred on by financial support of the infrastructure and much-needed exposure of the latest 3D technology thanks to “Avatar.”

    Adding simulated depth to the at-home viewing experience is pretty low on most people's priorities right now."

    The prospects for 3D television, however, are another story. I like the concept of another dimension as much as the next guy, but can the big screen 3D theater experience translate into the typical living room setting? In my opinion, not really. At least not yet. From a design standpoint, it’s going to take time for consumers to buy into the idea of 3D TV.


    While the technology’s developers may think they’re sitting on a gold mine here, they’ve unfortunately failed to consider some critical issues that will severely slow its adaption. As a result, here are four reasons why 3D is years away from adoption in the home.

    1. Different Context

    The assumption that acceptance and desire for a technology in one environment (movie theaters) will translate well to another (home) is a mistake that’s easy to make. But, in this case, several differences between the contexts will deter adoption of 3D in the home.


    At the theater, it’s about a communal experience of many people joining together to be entertained in a way they can’t replicate at home. They want to go out for the evening and make an event out of it. But entertainment at home is by its nature a more casual and personal experience that, with the advent of 3D, raises issues such as:

    • Will there be enough 3D glasses for everyone to enjoy the experience? What about guests?
    • The hassle and comfort factor of wearing the hardware at home.
    • The extremely limited availability of desirable content in 3D. And would we really want to watch the local news or “American Idol” in more than two dimensions even if it were possible?
    • It requires a significant investment of money to upgrade for what is (by many accounts at CES) minimal improvement in the viewing experience.

    2. High Cost

    In these (post?) recessionary times, people view large expenditures differently than they did a few years ago, when every room in the house was seen as a prime spot for a new flat screen. 3D-TV is not the sort of design solution people are willing to spend money on these days. The industry is pushing an expensive novelty that adds little of the kind of meaningful benefit consumers look for in high-end purchases.


    The economic downturn has encouraged consumers to re-examine their shopping behavior, and they’ve become more thoughtful and considerate of their purchases. Buying decisions fueled by novelty or impulse have been replaced by a desire for long-term value from a product, with benefits that consumers readily see as adding to the quality of their lives. Consumers now ask themselves “Will this make my life easier, better, or more fulfilling?” rather than “Oh, look at that shiny new toy, I want one!” — especially if it’s a matter of several hundred or thousand dollars.

    3. Poor Timing

    People will eventually replace their current flat screens when needed, and may well consider 3D at that time. But 3D will not, on its own, be a compelling reason to buy a new TV for most consumers within the next few years. The flat screens in use now are largely recent purchases, with many years of service life to come. People bought into these TVs too recently to consider an upgrade within the next couple of years.

    4. Lack of Universal Standard

    The adoption of 3D-TV faces a similar challenge to the acceptance of Blu-ray DVDs, but without the “stick” the DVD market has had — the threat that standard discs will be discontinued, forcing a (relatively inexpensive) upgrade to a new player. Blu-ray may be the new standard format for DVDs, but 2D-television is not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. And with incompatible 3D technologies competing in the market right now, it’s inevitable that consumers will wait on the sidelines until a universal format like Blu-ray becomes the norm.

    Missing the Point

    So will 3D-TV eventually catch on? Inevitably the tech will improve, enough homes will be at a stage to upgrade to new screens, prices will come down, it may no longer require glasses and so forth. But for the moment, 3D simply doesn’t deliver a meaningful experience to consumers on the home front. The value they will place on the technology is not at all commensurate with the hassles and costs of adapting it.

    Home entertainment is about spending enjoyable time with family and friends, kicking back and forgetting about the stress of the day. Any new technology aimed at this market has to be responsive to the underlying needs people have for this aspect of their lives. The DVR is a perfect example of truly meaningful design in this arena, and its rapid success was virtually ensured from the day it was introduced. It solved a problem and addressed a compelling desire.

    Similarly, instant access to movies and events through direct streaming to your TV has taken this desire for personal control over TV viewing to a new level. That’s the kind of innovation people are looking to spend money on right now. Online gaming, direct to TV, seems to be the natural evolution of this trend. Several companies have promised that, as soon as next year, we’ll be able to stream the latest games to our TVs without the need for a dedicated console that’s obsolete in two years. Play when you like on a subscription basis, no need to invest in games that you may tire of in a few weeks. If it works as promised, I think it’s going to be a huge success.

    But for now, I think Sony and other manufacturers betting big on 3D TV have missed the point. Design and innovation have to be in sync with consumer needs, even if they lead by a year or two. Pushing 3D TV seems like more of a “we can do it, so let’s do it” approach to product development, ignoring the reality that adding simulated depth to the at-home viewing experience is pretty low on most people’s priorities right now.

    Image of 3D dinosaur by Mark Wallace via Flickr.

    Joel Delman is the Los Angeles-based design director of Product Development Technologies. With a background in corporate law and business, and 15 years in product development, Joel understands the business side of creativity and how to strategically guide innovation and design. Prior to joining PDT, Joel spent time as a senior designer for Zenith Electronics, Cousins Design and Henry Dreyfuss Associates (New York). He also practiced corporate law with Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart in Florida. Joel received his Master of Industrial Design from Pratt Institute, his JD (corporate and patent) from Harvard Law School and his Bachelor’s in Economics from New York University’s Stern School of Business. His personal blog is Product Fetish.

    Tagged: 3d 3d television 3d tv ces film pvr sony television

    12 responses to “4 Reasons Why 3D TV Is Years Away From Adoption”

    1. Rob Usdin says:

      I think 3-D TV s a gimmick that ultimately will prove itself to be not worthy of the upgrade.


      Because you need a significant size screen for it to be worth it. Movies work well, because the screen fills your field of vision almost completely (completely in IMAX theaters). This contributes to the suspension of disbelief and adds to the experience.

      At home – even with a larger screen – it’s never filling your field of vision. So – it becomes just another cool gimmicky gadget rather than a part of the experience.


    2. Dimi says:

      I disagree.

      1) Yes there will be enough glasses, samsung are throwing in 4 pairs of glasses now via the online redemption.

      2) It’s no hassle to wear the glasses. You wear them in the cinemas, what’s the difference?

      3)Limited content? i) SBS is broadcasting the FIFA WC in 3D, Channel 8 is broadcasting the State of Origin in 3D, FOx sports have annouced they will be broadcasting channels in 3D, further, you can convert 2D content to 3D!

      4) Is doesn’t require sinificant investment, a 46″ 3D LED pannel is only $600 more than a regular 2D LED pannel.

      It’s evident you enjoy your profession in journalism, but that doesn’t mean that you should be telling fibs.

    3. Joel says:


      I didn’t say that nobody would buy into the technology, only that widespread / mainstream adaption was still some years off.

      People like yourself are obviously going to be early adopters, but for many your comment about not requiring significant investment because the added cost is “only $600 more” neglects the fact that, for many people, $600 these days is not an insubstantial amount…not to mention that they likely paid $1,500+ for their current flatscreen within the past two years.

      In reality you’re talking about an investment of more like $2,000 to “upgrade” from current technology that they are already very content with.

    4. Tony R says:

      Your also forgetting that they may just come out with a converter box as well. That is what you did in the mid 1990’s with the old crt tube televisions. Those field sequential systems used the 100hz of those televisions to give you shutter glasses 3d. Then you just simply bought the 3d field sequential vcr tape. It looked just like the new 3d tvs because they are field sequential as well. Many did buy 120 hz televisions, but those that bought the 60 hz tvs will be out of luck since they refresh to slow.

    5. Saa S says:

      I think you are missing a huge segment of the market which is video games. I’ve heard that the gaming experience in 3D is incredible and I think a lot of avid gamers would willingly pay several hundred dollars more for the novel experience. Unlike TV, gaming is not a passive activity so I think the arguments about the context are moot.

    6. Jack says:

      I was also a skeptic, once I saw 3d ona small acer 3d laptop (15 or so inch screen) right away I knew this is good stuff.

      I am not talking about red and green etc glasses, im talking about regular polorizing glasses (no battery needed in glasses when sitting st the computer regular real d glasses work and no eye strain for myself and others who tried.

      Blu ray to be honest wasnt a wow factor, to get people to spend money in these days you need to WOW them

      the biggest threat to 3d is the many who will put out junk 3d, then people will think that all 3d looks like that.

      3d monitors for computers are selling non stop (one needs a new video card too) apple doesnt have anything for this yet.

      TV’s will sell when more content is out there, auto conversion 2d – 3d is bad it looks silly and gives a serious headache.

      TV networks already started production, discovery and espn already filming stuff.

      It will catch on from work of mouth, one will be over at a friends how, be wowed and run and buy it.

      The price of the tv’s will come down, the glasses will have to be cheaper too.

      I URGE people to go check out quality samples on the 3d panasonic tv’s its mindblowing.

      The 3d you can get on your computer monitor with a 3d monitor is amazing, depth and things popping out.

      panasonic is about to roll out 65inch 3d tv’s

      its expensive and time consuming to shoot quality, if many start selling bad 3d is can take a good thing and turn it into bad very quick, word of mouth spreads quick online, positive or negitive


    7. Steven says:

      Poor resolution has ruined many an eye. 3D really strains the eyes.

    8. Paul Marxhausen says:

      I didn’t even really know what a full-blown migraine headache felt like until I sat through “Avatar”, and then started reading up (a day later after the pain and nausea faded) on the surprising percentage of people who experience physical distress from 3D technology, and on the theories of why this happens. Be curious to see how this plays out as 3D comes into the home.

    9. marcelo says:

      does anybody know if there are any ideas or it’s available to turn this 3D tv’s into 2D and switch whenever u feel like watching regular tv or 3D? I would be more willing to buy one if this was the case.

    10. Joel says:

      Paul raises an important issue that I left out of the post because evidence to date has been somewhat anecdotal. But whether its 5% or 20% of the audience (as I’ve seen reported), many people experience serious physical discomfort from 3D that will certainly be a barrier to adaption until the technology advances to address this.

    11. Shawn J says:

      I’m wondering if the headaches are related to the nausia I feel when one of my kids plays a video game with forward motion. My son plays Mario Kart on Wii and after a couple of minutes of the twisting and whirling around the space track, I have a headache and I’m ready to lose lunch and must leave the room. Based on that, I doubt 3D will replace the two TVs we bought last November. BTW, we are still using DVD and have yet to move to Blue Ray.

    12. Teri Hanright says:

      Look at the state of high definition programming on tv today. HD has been around for years, but much of the content remains standard definition. Much of the time we have SD cameras still being used that have been “adapted” for the 16×9 aspect ratio. Content providers will make or break 3D. I believe the content providers will not invest money in new equipment when they can instead show simulated low quality 3D programming.

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