Sunday, 5 December 2010

Will I Need Glasses?

If you've been to the movie theater or a home theater department at your local electronics store, you know that there is one number and one letter that is changing the way you get your entertainment: 3D. From the latest three-dimensional movie to the newest three-dimensional televisions, the planet seems hellbent on making couch potatoes into front-row fans. Saturday night, your routine of Hockey Night In Canada will take you to a new frontier as HNIC goes 3D for the first time ever.

I'm not against using technology to make hockey broadcasts better. The net cam gave us a whole new look at what goaltenders routinely see during a scrum in their crease, the ice-level commentator provides in-depth analysis and immediate interviews as things happen on the ice, high-definition television has made the game look and sound incredible, and instant replay - a Canadian invention, no less - has made its way into every sports broadcast on the planet. With the exception of the FoxTrax Puck, technology has made watching the game of hockey from your recliner much better than what it used to be.

There's a market for 3D technology at movie theaters. From Avatar to Toy Story 3 to the up-coming Yogi Bear movie, the success of these movies shows that the technology has been and is accepted as a movie theater add-on. However, the concept of 3D television hasn't really seen the light of day due to the extravagant costs associated with producing such broadcasts. Add into the fact that viewers have to purchase a new television set and a specially-crafted set of 3D glasses, and this venture seems like an idea straight out of Back To The Future.

Nevertheless, CBC and Hockey Night In Canada, in association with Panasonic Canada, are pushing full-steam ahead with their first broadcast of NHL hockey in three dimensions. My question is simple: WHY?

Rafe Needleman, a writer for CNet, pulled the sheets back and exposed the truth about 3DTV in his Janaury 15, 2010 article. He writes,

"Bruce Berkoff of the LCDTV Association and formerly a marketing executive at LG, noted that for all the hype around 3D, the television manufacturers are not really investing much in putting products on store shelves, nor are they expecting consumers to pay for it yet.

"Adding the capability for televisions to display alternating images for stereoscopic viewing through electronic shutter glasses is not expensive. It's the glasses themselves that are, and only a few 3D-capable sets actually come bundled with them. So consumers will be able to soon buy televisions ready for 3D without spending much."
It seems that electronics manufacturers simply are listening to the old supply-and-demand chain because people just aren't demanding 3DTVs yet. Gabriel Perna of International Business Times pointed out that major manufacturers just aren't mass-producing the 3DTVs to bring them to a reasonable price point for consumers. He writes,
"According to iSuppli, only four percent of the TVs shipped to retailers in the first quarter of 2010 -- about 1.8 million out of 46.5 million -- were 3-D. Samsung is currently leading the field, having sold 90 percent of all 3-D TV sets. In a press release, the company said it expects to sell 600,000 of them in the first six months of this year."
So as seen above, while you may have a 3D-ready TV, you're one of a small handful of people who will be able to view the game in 3D on Saturday. Then again, as pointed out in Mr. Needleman's article, your regular red-cyan lenses won't save your TV-viewing experience this weekend, either. According to September 21, 2010 survey results conducted "by Interpret, LLC, "an independent research company that examines trends in consumer attitudes and confusion surrounding 3D technologies", Hollywood Today's Anthony Coogan reports "that 35% of consumers polled said they would definitely purchase a 3DTV within the next 12 months. That percentage is up from 13% from the first quarter of this year". So that's encouraging... until you get to the glasses. Mr. Coogan wrote,
"The 3D glasses seem to be a major sore spot with many potential viewers. People who don’t ordinarily wear eyeglasses find them an unwelcome intrusion on their freedom. Those individuals who already wear glasses often struggle trying to fit 3D glasses over their prescription eyeglasses. Granted, the need to watch 3D with glasses is a nuisance at worst; at best they can transport the viewer into other worlds. So, the viewer always has the choice to wear or not to wear the glasses. The second issue about glasses is the price, which can be as high a $175, depending on the manufacturer of the 3DTV you purchase. Because they cost less to manufacture, most manufacturers are offering 3DTVs that use electronic, shutter glasses instead of the polarized type used in the theaters. The shutter glasses are battery-operated and sophisticated. Some dealers are offering the customer some basic incentives like two pair of 3D glasses free with the purchase of a 3DTV.

"There is an additional downside to the glasses issue, that of inter-compatibility. Panasonic glasses aren’t compatible with Sony TVs; Sony glasses aren’t compatible with Samsung TVs, and so on. ... When a group of people wanted to get together and watch a 3D movie or a 'live' sporting event the host of the gathering would need to provide every one of his or her guests with a particular pair of glasses that would work with their 3DTV. If glasses cost $149.95 and if the host has ten guests, that’s a lot of money to shell out."
And there lies the problem. If you own a 3DTV and have the glasses, you're set! If you want to invite your friends over, you all need the same manufacturer of glasses or there will be a problem watching the game in 3D. Which means you're better off watching the game in 2D.

It seems that North Americans might be more inclined to buy 3DTVs as opposed to other countries. Britons, for example, show a staggering difference in their views on 3DTV. According to Dave Parrack of,
"Of 4,199 British consumers questioned, just 89 stated they were likely to buy a 3DTV set in the next year. That’s just 2 percent, a tiny fraction when considered against the continual bombardment of advertising and 'You need to own this technology!'-style directives.

"Unsurprisingly, those aged between 25 and 34 are the most likely (around 5 percent) to buy into 3D, with those over 45 the least likely (just 1 percent) to do so."
Now, your head might be spinning with all these numbers and examples and survey results, but this all leads to one question: WHY IS CBC DOING THIS WHEN NO ONE WILL BE WATCHING IN 3D?

Look, it's nice to have the technology in place for when the day comes that the majority of people have a 3DTV in their homes and can watch 3D programming. There's no doubt that scientists and manufacturers have only scratched the surface of 3D technology. But with the major push over the last few years simply to get people off analog television signals and onto digital - let alone getting Grandma and Grandpa into the HDTV chatter - it seems that this push for 3DTV is nothing more than doing for doing's sake.

If a tree falls in the forest in 3D and no one is there to witness it in 3D, did it really happen in 3D? If no one is watching the game in 3D, does anyone really care if the technology is being used? While I think it's important to push the technological boundaries in terms of making the game more enjoyable for the fan, adding 3D telecasts of Hockey Night In Canada is simply unnecessary at this point in time. There are barely enough people watching in high-definition, so why want for nothing?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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