The Third Dimension of Greed

Posted on 20/08/2010


The numbers are a bit fuzzy and not a hundred percent reliable, but still the message is clear: The TV market still has room to grow without an entirely new generation of technology that will force the consumer to re-buy everything from his TV to his media player to his movie collection.

HD did that, at least partially. The thing is though, at least over here in Europe, HD hasn’t even arrived yet. There are still a lot of people out there who still have to get on the HD bandwagon. There is still room for growth.
Last year’s numbers from Nielsen were indicating that about one third of US households was owning at least one HDTV. That’s two thirds still waiting to adopt.
However, the growth of this market is massively stalling. HDTV adoption rates are comparatively high. Prices of new HDTVs are falling. Models that cost 1000€ two years ago now go for less than half that price. There might still be growth and room for a lot of that in the sector, but it’s shrinking by the month, apparently making investors anxious.

And already the industry isn’t just gearing up for but is already taking the next step. 3DTV. The future is now. Problem is though, the future doesn’t work. Nobody but the industry seemingly WANTS that future. The technical side isn’t there yet. Of course it’s arguable whether the early HDTV models were actually “there” when they hit the market in the early days, before the “HD Ready” standards arrived. The industry could and should spend more time at the lab here though. Current 3DTVs are overpriced field tests, not the real deal. There aren’t even any 3D products out yet – bar some demo discs – to actually use that fancy new technology with.

The other thing is, the majority of customers “just” – during the last 3-4 years – spent a good amount of money on a fancy new HDTV, a fancy new HD media player and “just” got their favorite movies in nice crisp BluRay/HDDVD. Star Wars isn’t even out on Bluray yet. And already the industry deems it time to throw all these away and upgrade again, because market shares demand it.

Before HD, TV technology updates weren’t much of a big thing. 4:3 to 16:9 wasn’t that bad. It didn’t require the customer to re-buy everything. No new VCR was required there. VHS to DVD didn’t require the customer base to buy a new TV. Not so HDTV, and it seems that sales model hit all the right notes with the higher ups. Why upgrade one step at the time when you can get the tech savvy customer to re-buy everything he bought three to five years ago at once?
Yes it’s a bit of a double standard being a big HDTV fan while complaining about those capitalist bastards daring to make a profit. Of course nobody needs to buy 3DTVs. The catches are relatively few, or so it seems.

This is where the video gamer in me cries out. Because 3D will of course not stop at the movies or at TV – though I’d reckon that it’ll take a very long time before we will see actual and worthy 3D TV programs. Video games will in all likeliness make big use of 3D. And that’s where I’m getting worried. 3D additions to a game cost money and development time that would otherwise go into the actual game. 3D will make the development of AAA games even more expensive. So eventually 3D will lead to another bump in videogame prices, we, the loyal customer, have to pay.

And very few will benefit from this, unless games like Killzone 3 will sell in two differently priced variants, the cheaper one without 3D, which is a highly unlikely model to come into existence.
So buying video games in 2012 will be like going to the movies, where ALL movies are in 3D, so you have no other choice but paying the extra hefty entry fee, even if you cannot (or do not) want to see that 3D stuff.

Nintendo’s 3DS appears to be the only sane solution and the most future proof concept here, at least in terms of customer friendlyness and usability. No glasses required. No additional investment required. No re-buying of media you already own required (bar maybe some 3D remakes of very old games, it’s still Nintendo we’re talking about).

I admit to using a bit of a double standard. But this strategy is so blatantly obvious, the tech so lamentably unnecessary – at the moment in it’s current state anyway. I’m sure people said similar things about HD in the early days, but HD was indeed different. It offered an easily recognizable benefit over older formats. 3D does not. Not even in fully equipped 3D theaters does it. Most movies using 3D would be better off without it. So far there are two movies out of the blockbuster bunch – and let’s be honest, non-blockbuster type movies won’t really be using 3D for a very long time anyway – that actually made good use of it and are better with than without 3d. And that should give every tech savvy guy out there something to think about.