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Is the 3D Industry its Own Worst Enemy?

By December 16, 2008Editorial

By Neil Schneider

Ok. I know I’m going to stick out like a sore thumb, and as usual, my opinions are not going to be the most popular, but I think our industry is conveying…no, worse than that…PUSHING the wrong message at the wrong time.

First, we have to appreciate that the S-3D movie theater cinema space and the at-home S-3D cinema space are completely different worlds. You can walk into a 3D movie theater, put on a pair of glasses, and enjoy it without any distractions. I would go so far as to say that it is nearly an anomaly free experience.

The at-home cinema experience is completely different. First, there is the famous standards issue as you can’t buy Blu-ray S-3D discs with your favorite movies, and there are no pay per view 3D events available through your local cable provider. Then there is the whole glasses issue. In the professional cinema space, 2:1 and 3:1 3D revenue over 2D theaters demonstrates glasses are acceptable in movie theaters, but preliminary U-DECIDE Initiative results show that this drops by nearly 30% for 3D broadcasts in the home.

Despite these shortcomings, manufacturers place 99% of their energies on promoting 3D cinema in the home.

What have we gained from these efforts? Media story after story about a dark standards war on the horizon for 3D distribution codecs, guesstimates of standards not being formalized for years to come, and worst of all, hopes for mass market glasses-free technology which hasn’t even been invented yet.

Instead of being viewed as the cutting edge technology industry that we are, manufacturers are voluntarily putting themselves in a defensive position by B-lining for the 3D cinema path. Like lemmings jumping off a ledge, our industry could very well be its own worst enemy.

3D backers proudly talk about Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks Animation – and one of the most credible pioneers our industry has. He is committed to 3D with lots of content in the works and a vested interest in seeing his movies repackaged and sold in the home. Surely he knows what he is talking about!

According to Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks Animation, “3D in the home will be led by gamers.”

What is this? Let me reprint:

According to Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks Animation, “3D in the home will be led by gamers.”

For those unfamiliar, 3D gaming is very much here today. You can buy an iZ3D gaming monitor for well under $400 US and play most games in 3D off the shelf. Viewsonic & NVIDIA will be exhibiting at CES this year, and they have already had some lead-up press events showing off their monitor/driver gaming combo. If you wanted, you can buy a huge 60”or bigger 3D HDTV, download free 3D drivers off this website, and play PC games in S-3D today!

Is this what customers want? Yes! For sure!

We have been running special surveys for end users called the U-DECIDE Initiative, and our preliminary results demonstrate that 3D is most suitable for video games according to both 2D and experienced 3D customers. The willingness to wear 3D glasses is also similarly high for end users.

Once respondents are asked about Blu-ray and broadcast television, U-DECIDE’s positive statistics lose luster. The details will be announced in the formal report, but I think it is fair to say that the type of content is a very important determining factor for how appealing 3D technology is in the home.

In summary, while we can afford to be less choosy in how we communicate about stereoscopic 3D gaming and its benefits, at-home 3D cinema and broadcasts are going to attract customers who meet certain criteria. U-DECIDE is working to determine what these criteria are for the final report. MTBS thinks at-home 3D cinema will certainly be successful, but selectively so.

NOTE: The U-DECIDE Initiative surveys remain open until January 1st, 2009, and by participating, you can win one of nearly 60 prizes including iZ3D monitors, AMD GPUs, and video games by The Game Creators, Blitz Games Studios, and Guild Software.

That said, we are left with two choices:

First, the industry can continue what it is doing. MTBS excepted, we can continue to put 100% of our energies on the distant hopes and dreams of mass market 3D cinema in the home. We can promote expectations that are based on a completely different movie theater venue, get written about as the “promising technology” that isn’t available yet, and wait for other people to decide when our products will be viable as others bicker over standards. All this while perfectly working 3D HDTVs and monitors are sitting on store shelves waiting to be bought for Christmas.

The second option is we can publicly embrace our successes. When a journalist says “yeah, but you don’t have any movies you can show”, we can answer “that will come. In the meantime, gamers can play their favorite titles in eye blowing 3D on their 60 inch HDTV. The gaming industry made $18.8 billion in sales last year, and we know for sure customers want this.”

When a journalist says “I don’t like those dorky glasses”, we can say “that’s interesting. According to U-DECIDE, 97% of 3D gamers love the glasses. As gaming sales dwarf cinema, this is what matters most right now.”

When a journalist says “3D gaming isn’t possible on console”, we can say “PC gamers help drive the revenues of leading companies like Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, and more. Also, one of the largest independent game developers, Blitz Games Studios, has already started implementing S-3D support for future console titles.”

Unlike at-home 3D cinema, we suddenly have a positive answer for everything once we start talking about gaming.

Let me talk a bit more about the media problem we have created. I recently had the privilege of presenting at the 3D Entertainment Summit. This was by far one of the most successful 3D conferences to date because all the heavy hitters were speaking. James Cameron (Avatar), Jeffrey Katzenberg (Dreamworks Animation), Vince Pace (PACE), and more. As with all the other conferences I have spoken at, I was a member of the only gaming panel in the entire two day conference!

Gaming Panel at 3D Entertainment Summit
From left to right: Chris Marlowe, Neil Schneider, Andrew Oliver, Andrew Fear

Moderated by Chris Marlowe, the speakers included myself (MTBS), Andrew Fear (NVIDIA), and Andrew Oliver (Blitz Games Studios). I revealed the preliminary U-DECIDE Initiative results – the first industry backed customer study of this kind, Andrew Oliver talked about the first console game in S-3D, and NVIDIA shared details of their upcoming stereoscopic 3D gaming solution.

The room was abuzz with what was shared, but the media response was mediocre at best. Blitz got some coverage here and there, U-DECIDE was recognized by some of the 3D blogs, and NVIDIA, potentially the biggest name of all, got absolutely no coverage! Not a single blog post.

Instead we read a lot of snippets about James Cameron, who really had nothing new to share, and the NFL 3D Football experience, which happened in 3D movie theaters and has absolutely nothing to do with the experience in the home. Even if it was an at-home broadcast, they are completely different venues and should not be thought of the same way.

Mark Rein, Co-Founder of Epic Games and Neil Schneider,
President & CEO of Meant to be Seen

Here is another example. I was interviewed at SIGGRAPH the day after our famous Mark Rein presentation. The journalist was a leader in his field, a television screenwriter in a former life, and was now responsible for the 3D beat in a leading publication.

It was a joint interview with myself and the iZ3D team, and we had the benefit of having a display behind us of iZ3D monitors being regularly swarmed by gamers. You’d think the subject matter would be obvious, but no.

I know I’m not getting the words right, but his opening question went something like “Why are you focused on a tiny market like gaming when 3D cinema is going to be the success in the home?”

I didn’t exactly take that remark sitting down, and I remember him nodding at me as if saying “you can shut up now. I know you like gaming, but I want to talk about something important.” The rest of the interview was about some flicker you get when you pan on Real D systems.

To my knowledge, he never printed the article, and I cringe when I think back at that interview because it was based on a negative mindset our industry trained him with. It is our fault that we let him discount gaming in this manner – and our industry is paying for it. Every day a 3D HDTV is sitting on a retail shelf because consumers don’t know they can use it, we are paying dearly.

It’s funny how life works, because I bumped into this journalist at the 3D Entertainment Summit which MTBS was a media sponsor of. I’m hoping he finally got it.

By the way! Guess who is talking about 3D gaming at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show as part of a 3D panel! Nobody.

Frustrated? I know I am. Share your thoughts in our forums.

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