What can VR learn from 3DTV?

What can VR learn from 3DTV?

What can VR learn from 3DTV? 860 489 Border Crossing UX

After years of excitement, promise and more recently disappointment, the 3D era is over.

As of this year, no more major manufacturers will be making 3D-capable sets any longer. The decision came as a result of the human factors which simply made 3D viewing an unattractive proposition. The weakening consumer interest led to cuts in 3D production budgets and consequently a lack of content. With little excitement from the consumer and minimal content from the providers 3D was destined to fail. It proves that the consumer need to have 3DTVs at home was never really there after all.

Now, Virtual Reality appears to have taken over the reins to the fight for a place in homes across the globe. Although significant differences between the two technologies are evident, both are troubled by similar problems. I wanted to discover what lessons VR can take from the demise of 3DTV.

Rise and Fall of 3DTV

Once an emerging technology itself, 3D was hailed as being ‘the next big thing’. It promised to offer the most immersive and real viewing experience yet. In the end though, the additional cognitive load proved to be too much of a turn-off. Naturally we just don’t want to have to work hard when watching TV which is what 3D made us do. The lack of consumer interest can be whittled down to a few influential factors.


3D glasses

First thing’s first. Forcing people to wear anything, especially over their face, must have a huge payoff. Watching 3D content required special glasses which made people feel daft and noticeably uncomfortable. They were the technology’s greatest hurdle proving to be more of a nuisance than an aid. In a 2010 Nielsen study, 57% of consumers cited the glasses as a reason they would not buy a 3D set, with 9 out of 10 respondents saying they worried it would restrict them from multitasking while watching TV.

This multitasking being the ‘second screen’ habit which came into play with the proliferation of smartphones and tablets. Today people’s attention rarely remains fixated on a screen for hours without either checking their Facebook notifications or replying to a text message. The glasses almost isolated people from looking anywhere other than the TV which just became plain annoying.



3DTVs aren’t a case of ‘plug and play’. Extras soon add up before any 3D content can be enjoyed. The initial purchase was more expensive than their standard 2D counterparts, but it didn’t stop there. To access channels showing 3D content there were often upgrades in TV package required. Providers like Sky typically enforced this to fund the large production costs of making content for their 3D channels. Even to buy or rent DVDs, the 3D Blu-Ray versions were generally more expensive than others also.

Additionally, manufacturers produced cheap ‘passive’ glasses which made pictures appear dim. The expensive alternative were ‘active’ glasses coming in at around £50 per pair and required batteries. Worse still, despite their expense, ‘active’ glasses only work on TV’s made by the same manufacturer. The financial commitment before any content could be consumed was, for many, just too much.


You’ve heard it before – content is king. When it comes to 3D it’s all about the content. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough of it available and what was – had its issues. For example, 3D coverage of the Premier League was hyped up to be richer and more immersive. However, the platform shot itself in the foot before it even got going. 

The cameras used for 3D shooting of games were housed in different parts of the grounds to where the standard 2D cameras would be. Simply down to a lack of space, those shooting 3D were relegated to doing so at unusual angles. Viewers were therefore introduced to a whole new experience before they had even got anywhere near the battery-powered glasses. Ultimately the content wasn’t as good for some as it was before and the 3D experience wasn’t justifying the drawbacks. 


3D was prone to giving many people eye-strain, headaches and motion sickness. The reason for this is because in the real three-dimensional world we focus on a specific object. Everything else then goes out of focus and this is how we perceive distance. However, with 3D television, every object on the screen remains in focus and it is this which causes the problems. Our brain attempts to make sense of it all, but it just can’t.

What Virtual Reality Can Learn

Just like 3D was ‘the next big thing’ back in 2010, ‘the next big thing’ today is Virtual Reality. Who’s to say though, 7 years from now that VR won’t disappear like 3D did? The story of 3D’s rise and fall is a cautionary one for the VR industry. Many of the issues that doomed 3DTV and its content could also do so for VR adoption. Much like 3D, it requires expensive peripherals and bespoke content in order to get the most from the technology. Even with this though there are still those niggling side-effects also. 

Although VR is being released primarily as a gaming peripheral, I have still seen major television events, films and short documentaries released for the platform. What then are the lessons VR can take from 3DTV?

Lesson 1 – Content

Image from MashableUK
Content must be:

  • Supported
  • Accessible across all VR platforms
  • Affordable for the mass market. 

For example, this year’s Super Bowl was available in VR but only for the Samsung Gear VR version of the Oculus store. For users of the Oculus Rift or other devices the Super Bowl was not accessible. Denying early adopters access to a huge VR event like the Super Bowl simply doesn’t make sense. It makes VR appeal to an even smaller market – a way I’m not convinced will work if it’s trying to conquer the masses. Like 3D learned when it was too late, a platform supported well with content is a platform desired by consumers.

Lesson 2 – Wearables

Oculus Rift

The payoff for learning to navigate a new device or strapping a block of plastic to your face has to be worth it. With VR though it’s more than just watching your TV through a glass lens. VR fully immerses you into the content by totally shutting you off from the real world. (Maybe the fact we can’t really see what we look like is a bonus too!). 

For home use though, this may incur safety concerns. Numerous times I have seen people immersed in Virtual Reality but then the next second finding themselves falling to the floor. VR can make an environment feel so real that users forget where they really are and so for them to feel safe at home may be another challenge all together. 

Lesson 3 – Side-Effects

VR motion sickness class=

There may never be a universal solution to preventing motion sickness and headaches for every user. However, if VR is to be used for hours of entertainment then the unpleasantness must be minimised. The likes of Oculus have large interdisciplinary research teams aimed at making their headsets the best for mainstream consumer adoption. By bringing together researchers and engineers from a wide range of expertise the major players are working on leapfrogging VR forward. 

The Future of VR

Convincing people to change the way they inherently interact with technology is a difficult task. The reasons for doing so must lead to a richer user experience. Without this, people will never even consider it in the first place.

Although VR is troubled by similar problems to 3DTV, it does have a trick up its sleeve which 3DTV didn’t. It really does offer a new and compelling experience far removed from what has come before it. By designing to eliminate the human factors which hinder its adoption VR can well and truly make its mark in homes around the world. 

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