Is the Launch of Sony's 3D Experience Another Marketing Blunder for the Nascent Format?

Promotional clips, trailers, and a dearth of Blu-ray titles: There's no lack of things to not get excited about.

By , Columnist

Copyright ©2011 Sony Electronics Inc.

If you've been thinking of buying that Sony BRAVIA 3D TV, there's no time like the present. Last week the company launched its on-demand 3D Experience service for suitably equipped TVs with the promise of content that is intended to enrich your 3D entertainment experience.

The free-to-access 3D Experience is available now through Sony BRAVIA 3D LCD TVs in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany, and France and is coming soon to other 3D-capable Sony platforms (and presumably other countries). Already it includes such irresistible offerings as an extensive range of 3D clips. And the list doesn't end there. There are also 3D trailers of blockbuster movies such as The Green Hornet and that perennial family favorite, Monster House. Sports fans can get in on the act, too, by feeling part of the action at two of yesterday's sporting events: Wimbledon 2011 and the FIFA 2011 Women's World Cup.

Sony has thoughtfully pitched the service at people with low grade home data plans by ensuring that bandwidth limits are not rapidly exhausted by heavyweight downloads like feature films. They've also promised more stuff down the line and have given prospective users plenty of time to save up for the necessary equipment by not saying when.

Excited? Perhaps not. To be fair, sporting events do look pretty cool in 3D on a decent-sized TV and they, alone, make Sony's offering better than Samsung's equivalent free 3D channel, Explore 3D. Nonetheless, for anyone who has invested in 3D equipment or is considering it, Sony's current 3D Experience is about as appealing as pre-licked lollipops in a candy shop.

There are good reasons why 3D hasn't so far been a huge hit in home entertainment. The high price of 3D glasses and the confusing range of formats alone are enough to give wise purchasers pause. Yet, manufacturers of 3D-capable electronics don't help their cause with half-assed services that won't even keep the attention of early adopters. What they risk instead is convincing prospective buyers that 3D is not ready for the mass market.

Video distributors are also not encouraging people to buy in to 3D yet, as evidenced by their apparent lack of confidence in the Blu-ray 3D market. So much was evident this week with the release of Rango. One of the most original and entertaining animated movies of the year hit store shelves on Blu-ray and DVD. Yet, there was no sign of a 3D BD. Similarly, Rio, which is due for release next month, is not coming out on Blu-ray 3D.

Given the attention such high profile movies capture in stores, it would be reasonable to expect distributors to use them to put 3D in the public eye. Nope. Instead, those of us with a 3D TV are left out and everyone else has the opportunity to conclude that 3D was a flash in the pan. Fans of 3D at least have Disney to thank for consistently feeding them with multi-dimensional entertainment. Walt Disney Home Entertainment is the only distributor that seems to have faith in the commercial viability of Blu-ray 3D. Its release plans have and do include a range of titles from the essential (TRON: Legacy) to the commercial (unnecessarily post-processed classics such as The Lion King) and the mediocre (Mars Needs Moms).

Ironically, though, Disney films aren't the ones typically used to sell 3D via demos of equipment in electrical stores. Instead, manufacturers try to tempt you with movies you can't buy. Here in Canada I've seen stores showing Shrek Forever After, Monsters and Aliens (both only available with Samsung TVs), Avatar (only included with Panasonic TVs), Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (only available from Future Shop, which recently put up the price of its 3D movies), and a trailer for Rio (not available in 3D anywhere). There's no real incentive to get into 3D when you can't watch the movies used to sell it to you.

Of course, Hollywood studios haven't helped by saturating theaters with duff movies that are more expensive but not more impressive to see in 3D. Many so-called 3D movies weren't filmed in the format and most that were don't exploit the advantages of it. Moviegoers have caught on. Knowing they aren't likely to see the same level of 3D spectacle in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Kung Fu Panda 2 that they saw in Avatar, they've gone to see them in cheaper 2D instead.

Of course, it's not unusual for new home entertainment technologies to need time to take off. Furthermore, no one should realistically have expected the introduction of viable 3D home entertainment to have people rushing to their local electronics retailer to replace their existing tech. Considering the factors playing against the format, though, it's all the more important for companies with a commercial interest in 3D to offer experiences that consumers can truly get excited about. Promotional clips and the promise of more material 'going forward' just won't do it.

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Michael Simpson is a freelance writer, editor, presenter, researcher, instructor, gadget freak and sci-tech consultant based in British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley. Formerly from the UK, he’s converted from tea to coffee and written and presented on film, TV, science, nature, technology,…

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