Is This 3D’s Mayday?

Sky Shuts Down Its 3D Channel

On April 24, Sky announced that it will shut down its Sky 3D channel. After June 2015, Sky will offer 3D content on an on-demand basis only. Sky began Sky 3D in 2010 showing studio movies and several Sky exclusive documentaries and concerts, and in 2012, Sky 3D broadcast the London Olympics in 3D. The channel has been available at no extra charge to subscribers of Sky’s family bundle, but households need a 3D TV and 3D glasses.

We’re not surprised by Sky’s decision to shut down its 3D-dedicated channel after six years. CCS Insight has long maintained that 3D would have a difficult time finding its footing; we said the lack of optimal hardware and occasional watching discomfort among some viewers would contain excitement for 3D, restricting it to special occasions. Also, some 3D detractors point to the need for awkward 3D glasses which could create a cumbersome and antisocial experience that takes away more than the immersive 3D experience adds. Finally, we have noted health concerns among some regulators over 3D content, especially for very young children (see More 3D Health Concerns).

The trend has been against 3D TV content during the past few years. In 2013 ESPN shut down its ESPN 3D channel after only two years owing to lack of viewer interest, and BBC announced it would suspend developing 3D content for the same reason. The experience of current 3D TVs and a general lack of content have not built broad demand. The failure of other 3D hardware was also a tell-tale sign: during the past decade, despite efforts by companies such as Amazon, HTC, LG, Nintendo, Samsung and Sharp, 3D hardware such as handsets and game consoles have been unable to break free of a gimmicky reputation.

At CES 2014, we noted the death of 3D (see International CES 2014: Media). Although there were still several TV makers showing 3D hardware including sets that didn’t need special glasses, we saw the industry’s energy was moving in other directions, especially 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) imaging, two technologies which themselves are being met with mixed interest.

We are encouraged by how quickly the supply chain for 4K hardware is advancing, driving TV prices down. However, to date, 4K content has been driven by Internet-based content providers and the average household will need more bandwidth to smoothly stream 4K programming. The technology is still in early-adopter territory among consumers and content creators.

Although many studios are still sceptical about 4K, there’s growing interest in HDR video. HDR isn’t about resolution, but rather the vibrancy of the colours. While the benefits of 4K screens over HD would be marginal in most common TV sizes, the richness of HDR content is distinguishable in most settings. The early enthusiastic and wide support for HDR among content creators is something not seen for 3D. Netflix, for example, has already announced its in-house content will be available in HDR in 4K and HD resolutions.

The energies of content providers have certainly moved away from 3D, and it looks unlikely to return. The interest in 3D video for the home has waned beyond initial spurts and the industry is wisely looking elsewhere for innovation.

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