There is a scene in the Oscar-buzzy movie Her where Joaquin Phoenix’s character plays a 3D video game in the comfort of his own living room, using his fingers to urge his avatar to scurry along, with the game world projected in front of him. It’s a dreamlike technology that feels within our grasp—we can already use our bodies as video game controllers—but more than ever, the idea of a 3D home set now looks like a dream that will never be.
On Monday, at a major tech conference, TV manufacturers Vizio announced that it’s abandoning support for 3D home televisions in favour of extremely high-def, albeit extremely flat, 4K TVs. This news is likely a blessing in disguise for Canadian broadcasters, which never truly committed to the once-slick medium.
The decision by Vizio—which has earned significant market share in the U.S. by offering affordable sets—is the long-foreseen flatline for the product, one that never caught on for a fundamentally simple, even comically simple, reason: people don’t want to wear glasses on their face when they don’t have to.
But the 3D TV’s fade from neat novelty to passé tchotchke was quicker coming in the U.S. than in Canada, simply because Canadian broadcasters never seemed to fully embrace it. Bell TV led the way in April 2010 with coverage of the Masters in 3D, but beyond a paid service to watch 3D movies for six hours one day a week, it’s been a lot of bluster and not a lot of Avatar-inspired game-changing. In December 2010, CBC made much ado about bringing two NHL games to 3D. But the buggy and expensive service was summarily shuffled aside, and CBC has not returned to it yet. And whereas ESPN’s 3D department (and its subsequent December shuttering) was big news, and NBC and BBC invested heavily to broadcast the 2012 Summer Olympics in 3D, Canadian broadcasts remained in reliable old 2D.
That reality was likely motivated by Canadians’ growing affection for Netflix, which a few months ago announced that it was fully invested in the 4K technology. It’s also because cash is king: 3D Camera Company told TechVibes blog that 3D production work can cost as much as $80,000 a minute. As CBC’s general manager of technology Fred Mattocks told The Canadian Press in 2011, costs and “small” viewership dimmed the CBC’s interest in it. “At the end of the day right now, I’m not as bullish on 3D as I was a year ago.”
So Canadian broadcasters appear to have backed into a wise decision by not committing serious funds to a struggling medium, and they may be happy to breathe a sigh of relief that there will be decreasing pressure to provide it. And while 3D TV seems headed the way of the laser disc, time will still tell whether or not 4K will be the innovator to lift flagging TV sales. After all, the revolution must be televised.