The future, or a flop?

Manufacturers are rushing out new 3-D TV products, but some analysts see trouble ahead

Josh Dehaas
The future, or a flop?
Kimimasa Mayama/Bloomberg/Getty Images

At a recent trade show in Tokyo, Toshiba unveiled a 3-D television that doesn’t require users to wear bulky glasses. “A dream TV is now a reality,” said Masaaki Oosumi, president of Toshiba Visual Products. The main impediment to widespread 3-D TV adoption has always been that consumers—at least half of them, according to Nielsen research—refuse to buy 3-D TVs because of the hassle of wearing special glasses.

Despite that obstacle, industry research firm iSuppli estimates that by 2015, 40 per cent of TVs sold will be 3-D. Other manufacturers are betting on 3-D, too. Nintendo will soon launch a glasses-free hand-held gaming console, the 3DS. But even as manufacturers rush to churn out more 3-D products, some analysts say the sales predictions are too bullish. “If [the iSuppli forecast] is true, I’ll eat my light bulb,” says Alan Middleton, a consumer behaviour expert at the Schulich School of Business in Toronto. It’s true that Toshiba has overcome the biggest hurdle to mainstream adoption, but consumers can be fickle, says Middleton. For one thing, 3-D appeals particularly to sports fans and their “dream TV” doesn’t max out at 20 inches, like the new Toshiba. It also likely costs less than the Toshiba’s $2,950 price tag. Then there’s the question of comfort. The new Toshiba model produces its 3-D effect by shooting nine beams of light at each eye at slightly different angles. But to get a clear picture, viewers need to position themselves at a specific angle to the screen.

Another challenge for manufacturers will be to convince the average consumer to buy 3-D TVs when most TV content still isn’t filmed in 3-D. After all, “no one seriously expects all TV programming to gradually be converted to 3-D, unlike HD,” says Stewart Clarke, editor of TV industry magazine TBI. “There’s unlikely to be much demand to watch the six o’clock news in 3-D,” he adds. For those reasons, Clarke says it’s still too early to know if 3-D will become the new standard at home. Middleton agrees. “Mass adoption is certainly not going to happen in five years,” he says. “In 10 years, it’s possible, but before then? I expect not.”