The Truth about 3D TV, Part 2

We ought to consider the stakeholders in this new universe of stereoscopic TV.  Stakeholders has become a cliché term, and in this case it’s meaningless if it doesn’t include the public.  I refuse to call us “consumers” – an utterly revolting and demeaning term that reduces human beings to a maw chomping on products turned out by the capitalist mill.  

But I digress. The stakeholders include broadcasters, cable operators, television set manufacturers, and people who make various components that go into the television set such as the chips, circuit boards, and various other commodities that make up a television, and all kinds of goods required for a broadcast infrastructure such as switching gear, recorders and, not the least, cameras.  People make these things, and the people who work in the companies that make these things and the people who use these things are stakeholders.  And so are actors, advertisers, and educators.  In fact, everybody except non-TV viewing hermits are stakeholders.  

One thing to consider is that broadcast television doesn’t charge its advertisers any more for a hi-def signal.  It had to equip its facilities with hi-def gear that was quite costly, but the advertisers still pay the same price for air time.  So in terms of how the broadcast channels make out, they’ll be holding their own.  If they didn’t upgrade to hi-def, they could not compete.  Same thing for 3D TV;  they have to do it to keep abreast. Television set manufacturers will probably make out okay but I wonder how much more they can charge.  There was a time when television sets lasted for a decade or more.  They were CRT sets and they cost a few hundred dollars.  Now television sets can cost a few thousand dollars, but of course there is terrific margin pressure on television sets.  The new sets are costly to manufacture. In the age of the liquid crystal display, the dominant display for television sets, it’s hard to differentiate one set from another.  The panels are made in the same factories, and the most important changes have to do with the backlight components and circuits that massage the signal to make it look better – maybe even just a little bit better than the competition’s.  

That’s an important point, because we’ve emerged from an era at the end of the 20th century when, for example, Sony had a dominant brand based on the Sony Trinitron CRT.  How does Sony differentiate itself from other people who make flat panel television sets?  To some extent they’ve succeeded by massaging the signal and making it look pretty good.  There are other people who make good television sets too, and when you’re spending more than a thousand dollars for a television set maybe price is more important than an incremental improvement in image quality. The same competitive pressures will apply to 3D TV sets. 

Hopefully the public profits from this competition.  There is more and more content available in hi-def, but of course until you have a large flat panel, say at least 40 inches, in the typical living room, hi-def just doesn’t make sense because you can’t see the difference on a small set.  You can’t see the difference between hi-def and, let’s say, the soon-to-be-obsolete NTSC on a small set.  So the high-definition signal, if not the digital signal, comes into its own with large panels and, as mentioned, those panels today are almost entirely liquid crystal panels, and they are likely to remain the dominant technology for some time to come.  I repeat, all of this is by way of background.  We need to have some common understanding before we go forward and understand what’s going on with stereoscopic television.  But interestingly you don’t need a big TV to seethe difference between a flat image and a stereoscopic image.  A big set may be more fun, but no matter what size anybody with healthy eyes can appreciate the difference.

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