Wednesday, April 13, 2011

James Cameron, 3D-TV, and Buying a Clue

James Cameron continues to show that while he's the master of intermittent, hideously expensive movie spectacles, he's completely clueless about the world outside of epic movies made every ten years. Cameron aims to bring 3-D content to TV, Reuters reports. In the article, Reuters notes that despite big bets by Sony and Mitsubishi, 3-D TV has failed to catch on. The Financial Times notes that Best Buy had a disappointing Christmas selling season, largely due to the failure of 3D TVs, as did Wedbush Morgan Securities, an analyst firm. Price, glasses, limited viewing angles, and content are all major factors for consumers saying no. The WSJ reports that Samsung is predicting that glasses-free 3D TVs will not appear in the next 5-10 years because of technical hurdles revolving around price. [Nintendo's 3DS gaming system uses very small screens, with limited viewing angles OK for single users. Many have meanwhile found the 3D effect to be nauseating and have turned it off.]

The Financial Times article predicts 2010 3D TV global sales will total 3%, the WSJ predicts that 2010 will have 3D TV sales around 5% of global totals. Gary Shapiro, head of CES thiks 3D TV is over-hyped. Direct TV thinks 3D TV will be a niche service.

So why doesn't Cameron get it? For three reasons.

He's rich. He's not that old. And he has relatively good eyesight.

Let's take the last first. Relatively good eyesight is required, for all 3D TV variants, glasses-based or not, because it works by fooling the brain that each eye gets a shifted image. Much like the old Stereoscopes of the 19th and early 20th century. Particularly as people age, they tend to have better eyesight in one eye than in the other. Extended 3D viewing tends to produce headaches and eyestrain, and for those with fairly limited eyesight in one eye, 3D TV can be viewed for only a short time. Other people find 3D screens, regardless of glasses or passive systems, nausea inducing.

Cameron has good eyesight. He can't understand those who don't, and find 3D image viewing a strain.

Cameron is still relatively young. He has yet to suffer the infirmities of age. Leaving him unable to grasp the reality, that an aging White America (and a very poor Mexican one) will be unwilling to part with money to buy a new TV when their old one works perfectly well, is paid for, and is easier to view to boot!

But the dominant factor in Cameron not understanding that it is not lack of content, but the technology itself, limiting 3D TV adoption, is his wealth. His vast amount of wealth has left him simply unable to comprehend life on a budget. Carefully parsing what is spent and what is not, particularly in a recession, particularly with stagflation, rising gas and energy and clothing and food prices, and stagnant wages. If 3D TVs were $10 in today's money, then yes, people would mostly buy them. Even at $200, replacing a fairly workable TV, with one that only does 3D images, and thus suffers from limited viewing angles, most likely glasses, and is uncomfortable for those with less than robust vision, would be a questionable decision for most consumers.

Probably not even porn will drive adoption of 3D TVs. Sports and movies, are just not that compelling in 3D to drive considerable outlays (it is likely that 3D TVs will be more towards $2,000 than $200) for … what amounts to 3D viewing of say, "Celebrity Apprentice" and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

SCTV had it best:

Cameron has no equal in spending ten years to bring a stunning spectacle from conception to screen. His scripts however might as well be written in crayon. Nevertheless the man has amazing visual talent. But his visual talent no more transcends that narrow boundary than programming talent makes one a business genius. For all his ability in one narrow area, Cameron is no Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. His failure in making 3D TV a dominant force in consumer video is assured.

Cameron recently signed an open letter advising against early release by studios of Video on demand.

“I do feel it’s not wise to erode your core business,” said Mr. Cameron. The problem, he said, is not that on-demand offerings will overlap with the theatrical run, since most films are out of most theaters within a month. Rather, he said, many potential viewers might skip the theatrical experience, knowing that a movie would soon be available at home.

Earlier this week, Jim Gianopulos, a co-chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment, defended the on-demand plan as a tool that would help bring viewers to certain movies that, like his own company’s “127 Hours,” were well reviewed, but didn’t fully connect with an adult audience that is hard to get out of the house. Mr. Gianopulos, in an interview, made clear that Fox had no intention of diminishing the impact of big event films like Mr. Cameron’s “Avatar,” but needed more revenue from movies that were being swept off screens anyway.

“For me, it’s enlightened self-interest,” countered Mr. Cameron, who voiced concern that early video-on-demand would weaken the theater industry, making it harder to release even films as grand as his own. [Emphasis Added]

Well yes of course. Consumers want lower quality but more convenient music. First Cassette Tapes instead of LPs, then CDs, and finally MP3s, which are very convenient but lose quality. Consumers want cheap and easy e-books, instead of finely bound hardbacks. Consumers prefer McDonalds or Taco Bell or KFC, to fine dining experiences.

And movies and serial entertainment will be the same. Amazon has released its cheaper, ad-supported Kindle (on the home page and screen savers) because that is the wave of the future. Eventually the devices will be even cheaper.

The business model that supports Cameron's every ten years epic is slipping away. People would rather watch on even a non-High Def TV through Netflix or some other service, for a very modest fee, than pay expensive prices for movies. And withdrawal from public spaces is part of the fruit, the harvest of diversity. Robert Putnam's Harvard Study confirms, that with more diversity, people go out to public spaces less. Who wants to go to movie theaters over-run by the equivalent of those who kicked in the head of Bryan Stow?

Cameron may make one more spectacle, and that's it. Movies are rapidly moving towards what happened in books and music. Cheap, ad supported content aimed at economically stressed consumers, who avoid public spaces like the free-fire zones (against vulnerable targets like Whites) they have become.


Camel Feet said...

I'm in agreement with you on everything except Cameron's movie business model failing. I, and most of the people I know, only go out to movies for the epics and blockbusters now, and I think that trend will continue. Basically, we want to see something grandiose in THX, on the big screen, at least once before receding to our home theaters, and I don't see that changing in my lifetime.

Anonymous said...

My two teenage boys made an announcement to me the other day. They are no longer going to the movies. My 15 year old told me "I am not going to spend $8 to see another bad movie."

CamelCaseRob said...

I went shopping for (or at least looking at) big screen TVs recently and it seemed most were 3D whether you wanted it or not.

Good point about gas prices. Since wages aren't going up but prices are (because of the rise in oil prices), we have to pick-and-choose what we will buy more than in the past. My TV works now, and I'm not going to replace it until it stops working, which could be 10 years.

Anonymous said...

I haven't watched many movies in the past year due to the high prices and low quality of hollywood crap. I would rather learn to do something than sit down for several hours.

sth_txs said...

I've been wanting an LED TV, but have put the purchase off so I can make some much needed home repairs.

I've looked at the 3D TV's and simply don't understand the point of them for the price paid. At least with an LED or LCD TV I can hook up the computer or Playstation for a more pleasurable experience.

Dack Thrombosis said...


You need to do a post about Donald Trump. I saw something somewhere on the Intertubes where his support among women skyrocketed after he started going all Alpha on Barry.

Anonymous said...

Blue Ray has not really taken off like they had hoped and 3d TV’s are even less worthwhile than that. I predict it to be a short term fad, 3d is too inconvenient to use and too expensive as well, even more so in this recession.

Anonymous said...

"Well yes of course. Consumers want lower quality but more convenient music. First Cassette Tapes instead of LPs, then CDs, and finally MP3s, which are very convenient but lose quality. Consumers want cheap and easy e-books, instead of finely bound hardbacks. Consumers prefer McDonalds or Taco Bell or KFC, to fine dining experiences."

If that's the direction consumers are heading then I guess this will be a dead end technology
Holographic Versatile Disc


Anonymous said...

I'm blind in one eye, so I want 3-D to die.

Every previous innovation in this kind of medium hasn't left anyone behind -- color-blind people can still watch color TV even if they can't distinguish colors; people with blurred vision might not be able to appreciate the increased granularity of 1080p HD, but they can see it just as well as SDTV. 3-D, on the other hand, leaves a segment of the population totally unable to watch.

Other people might get a lot out of 3-D images, but when looking at it with my personal interests in mind, I hope 3-D dies a quick death.

autothreads said...

Relatively good eyesight is required, for all 3D TV variants, glasses-based or not, because it works by fooling the brain that each eye gets a shifted image.

Actually, with true binocular 3D, the brain is presented with two slightly different images, just as it is in reality. The brain isn't being "fooled", it's getting information the way it normally does.

The Nintendo 3DS is just the start. Samsung may have downplayed the possibility of glasses-free 3D tvs (most likely because they're invested in a glasses based technology and would like to sell you what they have on the shelves now, not something in 3 years), but they hedged their bets, investing $15 million in Master Image, who make autostereoscopic displays.

Right now the state of the art is a 15-20" autostereo display with about a 20 deg viewing angle. When they get that up to 30 inches with a 60 deg viewing angle, most of the objections to 3D will go away and 2D will be like black & white.

BTW, if you want to experiment with 3D, all you need are a couple of the right models of Canon Powershot cameras and a freeware utility called Stereo Data Maker that takes care of shutter sync etc. If you get the cameras at a pawn shop you can put together a 3D rig for less than $100. For more information, just do a search on Stereo Data Maker. said...

Gosh, there is so much effective material here!