It’s not too often that I make a tech prediction that actually comes true, although like many people, I prefer to think I’m better at it than I really am. Still, when one does come out as I foretold I am not immune to rubbing my hands with glee and smiling with a cheeky grin, which is exactly what happened with the recent demise of 3D television.
I remember having a debate with a work colleague back in 2009 after he insisted I just had to go and see Avatar. I had read the reviews and came to the conclusion it was little more than yet another noble native vs evil colonialist story with a plot full of more holes than a 1980’s ceiling tile. Even my colleague admitted to the seriously flawed storyline and the acting being as artificial as the computer-generated scenes themselves.
But he loved the film because of its 3D special effects and insisted I fork out a huge wad of money to don a pair of ridiculous glasses and watch it for that reason alone. It didn’t matter that he agreed the storyline was dreadful, as he claimed that was easily compensated for by watching the film in three whole, wonderful dimensions.
As my colleague droned on about how amazing the films special effects were in 3D, I tried closing one of my eyes to see if this made any difference to his monotone delivery. It turned out switching between 2D or 3D made him no less boring and irritating, so if it didn’t work here, why would it be any different in the cinema?
It seems like every 20 years, 3D makes another attempt to invade our cinematic lives. I remember back in the 1980s when 3D reached our local theatres in New Zealand and everyone thought it was to herald in a bright new future. I was young back then and I certainly got sucked into the hype. Maybe my father knew a bit better though, as he remembered the same temporary phase back in the 1960s when 3D burst onto their silver screens. At least on those occasions it only cost us a cinema ticket and not a whole new television set.
Don’t get me wrong; I think there is a fantastic future in 3DTV. But first of all we have to ditch those contemptibly irritating glasses and not accept such a significant drop in visual quality. 3D should also be nothing more than an additional element to a good film. Much like colour, or sometimes the lack of it, can enhance a story. 3D shouldn’t make the story, no more than it made the conversation with my colleague.
Television technology has changed so fast in the last decade. We moved from analogue TV to digital, from square aspect to widescreen, fat, bulky tubes to impossibly thin screens, standard definition to high definition, five channels to 5,000 and the VCR to the PVR (of which most people probably don’t know the difference). With people now uttering 4K, or even 8K ultra high resolution, change is certainly not going to slow down any time soon.
But the real future for television is not 3D or even yet 4K, which is still a few years off for the general public, but lies where so much else in our lives has changed in the last 15 years -- the internet.
Sending satellites up into the sky is an expensive thing and if we are going to go and buy cable, we may as well bundle it with out Internet service.
Whether it’s live simulcasts or on-demand, the new way we are beginning to watch our television is more about the freedom to choose what we want, where and when we want it rather than pixels or tech specs. The change is so great that the biggest hurdle is not the technology anymore but the licensing and the will to deliver it. What may be both an exciting and frustrating time for viewers can be a scary and uncertain time for content providers.
We are still at the infancy of this new television revolution, one that has crept quietly up on us rather than bellowed from above by marketing agencies. It’s almost as if it has come to us by accident, surprising many of the big companies who should have been there right from the beginning -- the television manufacturers. Even the broadcasters, the people whose entire business is bringing us television, ignored the actual TV at first, opting to initially service mobile devices and computers, as if thinking we would all prefer to watch a film on a phone or sitting in an office chair.
3D was never the new revolution in this last decade, just like it wasn’t in the eighties or the sixties before that. But hopefully we don’t have to wait another twenty years before that technology is finally perfected and it can make a less intrusive, glasses-free impact on our viewing lives.
Until then, I’ll be making the most of the real new television revolution, quiet and unassuming as it has been, whether streaming catch-up from the BBC in glorious HD, or an on-demand service which offers a vast catalogue of shows or films. But one thing is for sure, 2D or otherwise: I won’t be streaming Avatar.
You can find more of Jo' Chambers over at Eye On-Demand where he blogs out a career making sense of the sometimes confusing world of Internet television -- he promises us he really doesn't watch anywhere near as much TV as this may suggest...seriously... Follow him on Facebook and Twitter here.
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