Can UHD Resurrect 3D?

It blazed like the comet that buzzed Arizona this past week, and then just as quickly disappeared – almost.

I’m referring to 3D HDTV. Everyone in the TV industry was enthused about the prospects of this literally new dimension in home theater when the first 3D sets hit the market in March 2010. Retailers held grandiose 3D introductory events, ESPN, Discovery and DirecTV announced 3D channels, and networks announced that premier sporting events such as the London 2012 Summer Olympics would be broadcast in 3D.

And then – nothing, or not much. Viewer antipathy and confusion pushed manufacturers to treat 3D capabilities as simply a check-box item and not a primary reason for buying that high-end set.

I recently purchased one of the last Panasonic VT60 plasma sets (sniff!) and a Sony STR-DN1040 HDMI 1.4a-equipped AVR, then donned the 3D glasses for viewings of some 3D Blu-rays including Avatar, Man of Steel, Brave, The Wizard of Oz and Hugo.

Based on these 3D viewings, it occurred to me that perhaps there’s hope for salvaging 3D, thanks to UHD.

UHD problem solving

Like 3D, I haven’t been a UHD booster, either. Consumers will see no resolution benefit at sizes below 70 inches, and there’s no broadcast or packaged 4K formats as yet. All consumers are buying is an over-priced flat screen TV, and sometimes not even that given the recent ridiculous rush of curved UHDs.

But UHD, and in particular OLED UHD, solves many of 3D’s annoying problems.

For instance, brightness. Darkened 3D glasses dim everything. Movie makers brighten their 3D images knowing we’re watching their wares through sunglasses in a dark room, but 3D images still lack the necessary silver screen illumination.

But OLED promises to project much brighter images. OLED’s and, to a lesser extent, LED LCDs increased UHD brightness, combined with controllable local dimming, could enable film makers to create 3D films that shine through shaded 3D eyewear.

Then there’s size. Perceptively I found 3D to shrink the size of the screen. To be truly effective and immersive, 3D needs a large display area, which is what UHD delivers – up to 110 inches.

Will mainstream consumers want wall-sized TVs? We seem to have welcomed 50-to-60-inch sets only a decade after 35-inches was considered huge, so there is some precedent for quantum TV size jumps. And, of course, there’s always Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” wall TV future to aspire to.

UHD also eliminates the need for active glasses, which need to be annoyingly recharged. Instead, home 3D consumers will watch UHD through lighter, unpowered passive glasses, the kind handed out in movie theaters.

Plus, passive 3D on a 4K set will enable full HD 1080 resolution for 3D viewing. Maybe it’s not 4K 3D, but it beats current HD passive 3D’s not-HD 580p resolution.


Finally, the timing of advances in display technologies that may allow for viewing of 3D without the glasses could dovetail nicely with the time in which there may be a viable UHD TV market. It’s possible that the video/TV business may obtain a second chance with a “3D do over” as memories fade on today’s less-than-stellar home 3D business now.

In all events, the possible uptake of UHD TVs could eventually salvage a home 3D market so it might achieve healthy niche status.