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Mike Elgan: Why 3D will fail in 2010

The consumer electronics industry is betting on 3D, but will you wear those goofy glasses?

December 18, 2009 06:30 PM ET

Computerworld - James Cameron's hotly anticipated 3D movie, "Avatar," hits theaters across the U.S. today. Besides stunning computer generated imagery and a predictable-but-appealing storyline, the movie will become well known for high-quality 3D.

Although an early review of "Avatar" famously said the 3D effects were "literally vomit inducing," most will be impressed. It's likely that actual nausea will be experienced by only a small minority of viewers. "Avatar" is prompting armchair prognosticators to predict that the film will mainstream the use of 3D in the movies.

In fact, multiple industries -- TVs, software, PCs, videogames and even cell phone handsets -- are ramping up a new generation of 3D products that will be released in 2010.

Despite the hype -- and billions in risky investment -- most of these efforts will fall flat. I predict that people will largely reject 3D consumer electronics products next year.

Why 3D movies never caught on

When I was a kid in the 1970s, I saw the 1953 horror film "House of Wax" in 3D at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. It was an old movie even then, but the film set the standard for pandering to 3D technology with scenes showing random objects flying at the audience.

Judging from the trailer, you can see that 3D was hyped 56 years ago.

One of the problems with 3D technology is that it tempts directors to change the action, and sometimes even the story, to get a rise out of the audience with cheap 3D tricks. They did it in "A Christmas Carol" with Jim Carrey. They'll probably do it in the upcoming "Alice In Wonderland."

The trouble with 3D in movies is that Hollywood is confusing novelty with sustainable appeal. Audiences will quickly tire of 3D pandering -- and of wearing goofy cardboard glasses.

And that's one of the problems with 3D as it's currently set to be offered in consumer electronics. Executives smell money. But they just don't get 3D.

"We went from standard definition to high definition, and [3D] is the natural next step." HDlogix president Jim Spinella said recently, perfectly encapsulating the conventional wisdom among 3D advocates.

That statement sounds reasonable. But it all hinges on what "3D" means. If "3D" means goofy glasses, then, no, going from not wearing goofy glasses to wearing them is not a "natural next step." And HDlogix's own technology helped demonstrate that.

A Dallas Cowboys football game last Sunday featured the "first live 3D broadcast ever to be shown on giant video screens at a major sporting event." The idea was to showcase HDlogix 3D technology. At halftime, the giant screen switched to 3D mode, and the fans were invited to put on the 3D glasses that were handed out at the entrance.



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