TV revolutions; the struggle continues

Post NAB, we're thinking about how TV has changed in the digital age. IP TV puts television on every device with a screen. 3D TV seeks to bring everyone back into the living room. And then there's gaming. There is an increasing number of people who are quite happy to spend their leisure hours playing games rather than watch TV. Does 3D change that?

Robert Dow

Revolutions always take a long time. It’s the shooting and fighting part that goes fast. At NAB it looks like we’re just winding up the shooting and fighting part for S3D but that doesn’t mean we know who wins. Clearly, obviously, and totally for sure man, 3D is going to be a fact of life in the movie theaters and it’ll certainly be a novelty for home movies and sports. But, the thing is, TV watching is mutating so fast that we’re not so sure what people will be watching in 2015 and what they’ll be watching it on.

We participated in the 3D Gaming Conference in Los Angeles. Although focused on gaming, the conference is a Hollywood affair hosted by Variety. Jon Peddie Research was also a sponsor and Neil Schneider used the opportunity to hold a meeting of the 3D Gaming Summit. As you might expect of the PC company doing the most to push S3D gaming, Nvidia was also a major presence at the conference with Andrew Fear and Phil Eisler spending time on stage promoting S3D for games. Avatar producer Jon Landau said in an off-hand comment that 3D gaming was going to be much bigger than movies and the crowd went crazy. Ah, well rather they went schizophrenic. There were some in the audience who just couldn’t believe that S3D is the future of gaming. There were others who just could not believe there were doubters when the bush was burning right there in front of them.

But hey, I’ve been thinking about is this: Landau may well be right, 3D gaming is going to be bigger in the home than 3D television – it’s just that we haven’t agreed that S3D is the future of television. I still can’t wrap my head around Mom, Dad, Susie, and little Billy sitting in front of the TV in 3D glasses. It works just fine until they turn around to talk to each other. If they’re wearing shutter glasses, they’ll see a flicker, but even passive glasses are going to raise a titter – everyone just plain looks goofy. This has never been a problem for gamers.

3D needs to be immersive and that’s why it works so well at the movies. In the theater the darkness and the large screen work together to let you dive into the movie and to be absorbed by it, assuming of course there is no talking idiot behind you or you can shut them out. (By the way, have you noticed yet, that at a really well done 3D movie like Coraline, Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, there are fewer talking idiots? No doubt, they’ll adapt, but so far, people are engrossed.)

Gaming is similar. As has been written so, so many times. The PC’s relationship with the viewer is primarily one to one and the gamers most willing to spend money on their hobby in the form of advanced PCs, 3D displays, and glasses are playing immersive games. In fact, the hold up for 3D gaming is that true gamers feel the 3D experience is distracting. It’s not immersive enough. So far, your brain does a better job of putting you into the picture than 3D glasses do.

By the way, just as an aside, I’m thinking that lenticular 3D is likely to be the death of 3D TV. Honestly, have you seen it? It really does look like a slightly higher quality 3D card from a Kracker Jax box. It’s not at all immersive. Rather, it causes images to pop out. It seems that lenticular 3D is going to be a great technology for signs and displays. And, even as much as I admire the lenticular 3D mobile screens and picture frames, I can’t help but think they look more like fun gadgets than something that truly adds to the experience. There are smart people behind this work, so their crystal ball could well be better than mine. Maybe they’ve got stuff in the labs that is smoother 3D than what we’re seeing now.

The revolution continues. It’s far from clear what the role of 3D movies, special events like opera performances, S3D TV, lenticular screens, et al., are going to play in our entertainment lives.

While S3D was getting all the attention at NAB, there’s another revolution being fought and that’s IP TV. While everyone is going crazy about the possibility of people watching TV wearing 3D glasses, IP TV is creeping into our lives and people are sneaking out of the living room to watch video elsewhere (lord only knows what Dad and little Billly are watching – it might not be Bonanza). We saw Elemental at NAB, and Zenverge was taking private meetings and both companies are building hardware system components that will change the math for IP TV – more streams, less money. They both tell us they’re the tip of the iceberg. There’s plenty of competition out there. For IP TV, the shooting is over, but the winners have yet to be determined.

So, here’s why Jon Landau was right. S3D gaming is going to be bigger than 3D TV because more people in the living room are going to be playing games than watching TV. Really.

Okay, maybe.