3-D Will Conquer the Home Screen Last

The 3-D video bandwagon keeps rolling, with the announcement this week of Seiko Epson's new technology for small sized 3-D cell phone screens. I've seen demos of small 3-D LCD screens that don't require glasses, and frankly, they're much more impressive and ready for mass market than their living room-size brethren. This is one of several reasons why I predict 3-D will catch on for cell phones and media players before it catches on for big screen home TVs:

For cell phones in particular, people are already used to less-than-stellar picture quality, so the problems with current 3-D LCD technology seem more acceptable. Further, video viewing on these screens tends to be for much shorter amounts of time than for living room TV sets, so again the minor problems with tiny-screen 3-D are less annoying.

Additionally, the small cell phone screen has the problem of cluttering too much information into too little real estate, and 3-D offers a distinct advantage. The "Z-axis" can be used to separate information display at different depths, creating a more easily readable user interface.

Purchase duration and price are two more reasons why 3-D handsets will catch on much faster than TV sets. While the living room TV set is a major purchase for most consumers that typically is replaced perhaps every ten years or more, the handset is a far more transient purchase. Many cell phone users get a new phone every year or two, and some cell phone carriers in the U.S. even provide free replacement phones every couple of years.

This heavily subsidized pricing of cell phones further reduces the barrier to entry. When paying a couple of thousand dollars or more for a big screen TV, consumers will think long and hard about how much they want 3-D. But since the final cost to the consumer for a new cell phone is often between free and a couple hundred dollars -- with retail prices greatly reduced to the consumer through carrier subsidies -- handset consumers will be far more likely to take a chance with a 3-D display.

It seems clear that the non-glasses big screen 3-D LCDs will initially find their main market in digital signage -- at airports, train stations, in department stores, etc. They're eye catching, at least until the novelty wears off.

The polarized-glasses 3-D LCD technology, which in my view is indeed completely ready for prime time (based on demos I've seen) will most likely catch on initially with the same crowd that practically everything else in high-end home video has initially caught on with: The home theater early adopter film enthusiast crowd.

In any event, regardless of how this all plays out, in light of the world's economic woes, it's comforting to know video indeed has a new trick up its sleeve.

By Cliff Roth, Video Imaging DesignLine