NAB 2013: And the magic wand this year is… 4K! (and 3DTV was a fraud)

The National Association of Broadcasters convention has a conference program for sure but first and foremost it is the industry largest trade shows. When you are taking about trade shows you are taking first about sales. In an industry whose budget is shrinking everyone is searching for some magic to restore their organizations to their former glory (without mentioning names, you may think about the likes of Sony, Panasonic, Harris and so on).

A few years ago the magic wand was supposed to be 3D but after a while, when huge sales didn’t materialized the merchant were disillusioned by that magic wand and begin a quest to find another one. Then someone said “4K, 4K I have found the true magic wand this time”. Intellectually this sort of behaviour is simplistic, just re-applying an old recipe to a new situation is not a magic wand it’s just wishful thinking. It’s simplistic and it shows that the knowledge and the understanding of the market is just not there. Most probably it’s just a story to try to convinced investors, management and clients that this time it will work and your organization will be fixed soon!

Lets look at the case with stereo 3D. Here’s a product that have been trying to find a public for over half a decade. Firsts iterations were not very convincing but with time and technology evolution it reached a level where the audience was ready to pay a premium to see 3D movies in theatre, repeatedly. Seeing that it was successful there finally, the consumer electronic manufacturer saw a magic wand there. Hey, lets just bring S3D at home! It was off course simplistic but it was a solution that seemed to fit the problem. See, the issue was that sales of flat panel TVs were flattening after a large replacement cycle from SD to HD. But what was neglected is that there was a number of factors that did contribute to that transition. The end of analog transmission for one but more significantly, the move from heavy (in power and weight) CRTs to flat screen. Consumer were buying more the flat and light screen than the higher resolution and they waited till the price delta was inferior to 30% before doing it in volume.

In any case without considering the fundamentals, the CE manufacturers rushed to market with product that were expensive and with technology that was far from perfect (expensive glasses, that are uncomfortable and were often out of power when you wanted to use them) but more importantly, without availability of content. You are going to pay a premium to buy an imperfect product to watch what? A few movies that you may already have seen in the theatre? Plus, the experience of those TV are nowhere near to the experience that you have in theatre. Unless you have a giant screen and you sitting close to it, there is no way you are going to get the immersive experience that you get in theatre. 3D at home is nowhere nearly as immersive, it’s not the same experience and trying to sell that less immersive experience to people who just changed their TV for a flat screen a couple of year ago was just wishful thinking. It was just believing in magic not looking at the fundamentals and reality.

Some people still believe that S3D has yet to deliver it’s magic. They think that the technology has not worked it’s magic yet because of the glasses! That’s right, blame the technology not the content! This is despite the fact that there is now cheap S3D passive sets with the same technology that has been successful in theatre. They think that the solution is a technical one: 4K auto-stereoscopic displays (glass free)! Again it’s applying a technical solution at a content problem. It’s a false solution.

I was sitting in front of the Dolby 3D presentation and I that did not convinced me at all that this was a solution. In fact, I think that there is something immersive to sit down in a sit put polarized glasses and focus on a 3D experience. The casual watching in a room of an auto-stereocopic screen as something that is non-immersive and is strangely a bit counter-productive. And the problem is that to produce an half good auto-stereoscopic display is hugely expensive. They bet that it can be within the reach of consumer in a couple of years but it will still much more expensive than HD, a lot more than 30% so don’t expect volume! But regardless, lets say that it is working great (for all the good review of the Dolby 3D display, it still has significant artifacts, it’s not a seamless experience, not to mention the perceived resolution). It’s working great but why do people will want to buy it? To watch which content?

Remember that many attempted to sell digital music players before the iPod. Apple was fat from the first to market but they provide a seamless experience that made it very easy for the consumer to load content on the iPod and that’s what made a difference. Once again, content is the key and that is where the key is for 3D, not technology. Make a killer show available for it, something that you can truly experience  only on a home device and see how the market changes!

In any case, seeing that the 3D magic wand didn’t deliver now they are all turning their attention to the new found one, 4K. So, consumer that still watches SD shows stretched on their flat screen without noticing it will flock to embrace 4K and buy a much more expensive set? Cable and sat operators will be happy to open more bandwidth on their system for free as if they don’t feel shortchanged already by the HD transition (they use more bandwidth but don’t really generate extra revenue)? Yeah, for sure 4K has it’s place for high end production and theatre but will everyone spend the extra money to make the switch? Will they do so in enough volume to restore these companies to their former glory?

Let’s stay tuned to see if the new magic wand deliver!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Thank you for this clear and refreshingly unbiased report from the front row seat at NAB.
    Yes, 3D content and also the 3D grammar itself is just beginning to form, let alone define the basic nouns and verbs of its unique vocabulary. it is a new open Artistic territory, and time will naturally be required, even as the technological dust-storm surrounding 3D begins to settle.
    Thanks again, Much appreciated.
    D. Carlton Bright (3D videographer)

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