“2160p” display technology yields a fourfold increase in the amount of information that can be displayed on the screen
A YEAR ago, your correspondent noted that, every generation or so, 3D entertainment becomes all the rage, only to fizzle as the technology’s shortcomings make themselves felt (see “The best seat in the house”, May 7th 2010). The entertainment industry’s enthusiasm for 3D hit fever pitch when James Cameron’s blockbuster movie “Avatar” was released in late 2009 and went on to gross $2.8 billion worldwide in 2010.
Since then, the fad has faded even faster than your correspondent expected. While cinema owners welcomed 3D movies (they allowed them to increase ticket prices), movie-goers wearied of the clumsily used effects, the headaches and nausea that frequently ensued, and the sheer nuisance of having to wear special glasses.
Much the same goes for 3D television. A year ago, set-makers saw it as a nifty way of boosting flagging sales for a few dollars of additional electronics. Then there were the hundreds of dollars more they could charge for all the spectacles (at $150 a pair) needed to view the three-dimensional effects. But with 3D content limited and uninspired, and the spectacles remaining a pain in the neck, the novelty has quickly worn off.
The problem is that 3D television requires people to change their viewing habits. Normally, viewers watching even their favourite shows tend to be in reasonably lit rooms doing several things at once—scanning newspapers and magazines, using the phone, even browsing the web and answering e-mail. Taking 3D glasses off and on to do such things quickly becomes a chore. No surprise that even ardent early fans of 3D television have largely gone back to watching traditional fare.
It is not as though 3D television is about to go the way of the video-cassette player. It has simply become yet another feature built into television sets (like LED backlighting, 240-hertz refresh rate, local dimming and WiFi connection to the internet) that consumers are happy to have, provided they are not expected to pay a premium, and the special glasses are thrown in free. Lately, Fry’s Electronics, a big retail chain on the West Coast, has been offering 47-inch 3D television sets with glasses and all the usual bells and whistles for under $800. A few months ago, such sets sold for $1,700.
One of the few benefits to emerge from the latest 3D fad is the way it has spurred set-makers to produce televisions with higher resolution. The special glasses that switched the left and right lenses alternatively on and off in sync with the 3D television set’s screen—as it displayed the stereoscopic image first for one eye, and then, from a slightly different perspective, for the other—meant that the glasses were effectively off for half the time. So, instead of seeing eye-popping pictures, people were left with, quite literally, a dim view of things. Also, by not seeing the whole picture all the time, the eyes perceived a far fuzzier image.
To compensate, set-makers are looking to increase the number of picture elements (“pixels”) on the screen. Today’s high-definition television (HDTV) sets display 1,920 vertical scan lines and 1,080 horizontal lines using so-called “progressive” scanning (ie, cycled continuously from top to bottom). The result is a grid of 2,073,600 pixels (ie, 2.1 megapixels). Doubling the number of vertical and horizontal scan lines across and down the screen to 3,840 by 2,160 results in a display containing 8,294,400 pixels (ie, 8.3 megapixels). In other words, going from “1080p” to “2160p” display technology yields a fourfold increase in the amount of information that can be displayed on the screen.