After significant hoopla followed by years of mediocre reviews and tepid consumer interest, 3D seems to be disappearing. Do you care? Take our poll.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
When 3D TVs hit the market a few years ago, TV companies predictably said, "3D IS AMAZING, YOU WANT THIS."
We, as TV reviewers, said something between: "Gimmick!" and "It works pretty well, but look at that crosstalk."
Consumers, almost universally, said, "Wait, I still need glasses? Pass." Most people we know with 3D TVs used the feature maybe once or twice, then let the glasses gather dust in a drawer.
Despite that tepid response, Hollywood churned out more 3D movies, released them on Blu-ray, and TV companies kept pumping out 3D-capable TVs that got marginally better, but not by much.
Quietly, over the last year or so, 3D seems to be disappearing. Fewer 3D Blu-rays, less support on the TV manufacturer side, and other factors point to a gradual phasing out of the least-interesting TV feature since...well, I can't even come up with a funny comparison here. 3D itself is usually the punchline to that joke.
So the question is, do you care that 3D seems to be going away?
The signs, they are a-changin'
Though many high-end TVs still have 3D support, the percentage that do is dropping. A number of 4K TVs aren't 3D, for example, including models from LG and all of Vizio's models.
Even the companies that do still produce them are scaling back their support. Samsung makes more 3D TVs than anyone, but its top-of-the-line 2015 model, the JS9500 , only comes with one pair of 3D glasses. In previous years, Samsung flagship sets included four pair. Could that be simple cost cutting? Maybe, but you'd think if lots of people were clamoring for it, Samsung would include more than a single pair of $20 glasses on a $4,500 TV.
3D's biggest issue has always been lack of 3D movies and TV shows, however, and they're only getting more scarce. ESPN's highly hyped 3D channel quietly got put to rest two years ago. Many other 3D-only channels, like 3net, Xfinity 3D, Foxtel 3D, Sky 3D and more, are also gone.
Some download services, like Vudu, still offer 3D, but the total number of 3D Blu-ray movies has dropped off significantly. They peaked in 2013 at 77, up from 66 and 68 the two years previous. Last year? 44, and only 22 so far this year. There will certainly be more in the second half, but I doubt we'll break 40.
And perhaps the biggest nail in the coffin: there's no 3D on Ultra HD Blu-ray. The optical disc format destined to replace Blu-ray doesn't support 3D. It's possible, sure -- the bandwidth and technology is all there -- but 3D is not in the current specification. This omission is at least partly is is due to the fact that there isn't any 4K 3D content, apparently, so it could conceivably be added later.
In the meantime, if you're a fan of 3D, don't despair -- your current 1080p 3D BD discs will almost certainly work in the upcoming 4K BD players.
Do you care?
These pieces of evidence supporting the demise of 3D are all rather circumstantial, of course. But it's not like there's one entity that would hold a press conference to declare "We're out -- laters!" as there was with, say, HD DVD.
I've never been a fan of 3D. I've thought it a distraction at best, and a cynical picture-quality-ruining money grab at worst. But I've been wrong before. What are your thoughts? If 3D disappears as a feature on future TVs, will you care?