Posted by: hdemott | March 30, 2010

3-D: Do We Really Need To Upgrade Again?

There’s a great push around 3-D these days – as Avatar has pushed ahead of all films at the box office – and consumer electronics companies are pushing a new 3-D life on us. But is it really time to upgrade again?

For many, the idea of upgrading is an anathema. We just finished purchasing our new plasma and LCD TV’s – do we need to junk them? I like my Wii machine and the Xbox is no slouch. Do we really need the Cell processor and Blu-Ray disk of the PS3  in order to play games? How about at the theater? Do we really need to pay $19 to see “How To Train Your Dragon” in IMAX 3-D?

I don’t think so.

Media companies are thrashing around like sharks out of water, grabbing onto any revenue they can – as they are disintermediated by newer forms of media. Trying to keep their stock prices up, they need to grow, and to grow – they need to raise revenue. How to do that? Raise prices. Get people to buy new disposable hardware.

Remember the Sony Trinitron television? It weighed 200 lbs and had a fantastic picture – and still works well today. It will probably last 30 years – yet the CE industry has decided that all of their devices are disposable. TV’s, you need a new one every few years to take advantage of greater refresh rates, and deeper contrast. Cell phones, of course the latest thing is what you need. Computers, yours depreciates faster than a Toyota driven off the lot straight into the back of the car in front of it.

Yet why do we need these new wonders – if not to satiate the growth desires of the media companies?

In the case of 3-D, I would argue that we don’t.

Avatar was an amazing and groundbreaking film. It took 10 years to make. It used cameras that were not available before and the 3-D nature of the film added to the immersive experience. As a story, it was okay, but as an experience it was phenomenal.

Contrast this to another great film – Pixar’s UP. UP’s 3-D effects, in my mind, did nothing to bring you further into the world of the characters – but served simply to extract another $3 at the box office. As a story, I liked it better athan Avatar – but as an experience – it wasn’t even close. Put both on a regular TV set – and I think UP will be th ebetter movie long term – but put yourself in a theater and Avatar wins hands down.

And that’s the point. Right now, studios and others are trying to get you on the 3-D bandwagon, but forgetting the most important point, which is that unless the technology adds to the experience – it is perhaps not worth the extra cost. James Cameron realized this – and being who he is – was able to fulfill the promise. Jeff Katzenberg, who is probably more vocal on 3-D than anyone, sees 3-D as a marketing gimick – which is why it is doomed to fail there. I’m sure “How To Train Your Dragon” is a fine film – but would it be equally fine in 2-D. I suspect so.

And until that is not the case – it is going to be hard to get people to open their wallets for all the attendant gear that the CE guys want to sell you. Look at Blu-Ray. It’s adoption has been slower than expected, largely because the benefits don’t necessarily outweigh the costs. 480i is good enough for most people.

So do we really need to upgrade again? Probably not until the software truly catches up with the hardware.

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