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Summary:

The idea that 3-D content is going to become widespread within the next few years thanks to Hollywood and sporting events isn’t likely, according to Paul Sagan, the CEO of Akamai. He said he’s more concerned about mobile traffic than 3-D traffic at this point.

This weekend I’m going to see “Toy Story 3″ in 3-D with my family, which I’m pretty excited about, but the idea that 3-D content is going to become widespread within the next few years thanks to Hollywood and sporting events isn’t likely, according to Paul Sagan, the CEO of Akamai. I asked Sagan at our Structure conference yesterday if Akamai was building up its content delivery network in anticipation of an onslaught of fatter 3-D video traffic — and the response was no.

He said that the technology was still too early even for early adopters as most people aren’t ready to upgrade their televisions after buying HDTV sets within the last five years, adding that he first viewed HDTV in Japan in 1992, about a decade before HD finally starting hitting mainstream adoption. Since technology shifts take time, and 3-D has a “chicken and an egg” problem of needing compelling content before consumers invest in the hardware while hardware manufacturers need widespread adoption in order to lower the prices of equipment, he isn’t worried about meeting the bandwidth needs of 3D-TV yet.

He said that his content delivery network, which serves some 3,000 media companies, is focused instead on the terabytes of HD and standard definition media that it handles today, as well as improving and delivering content optimized for the myriad mobile phones out there. So, despite the World Cup showing in 3-D, Virgin Media saying earlier this month that it plans a 3D-TV channel and more movies like “Toy Story 3″ hitting theaters, we appear to still be a ways out from a massive 3-D bump in network traffic.

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  1. And what does 3D bring to the table for most TV programming? I’d say nothing. Would Seinfeld have been better in 3D? Soap operas? Game shows? American Idol? Even sporting events. For 3D to have real impact, the object you are seeing in 3D needs to be visually close to you for you to distinguish it from the background. Too far away (and I’d say that’s not very far at all) and it is no different than 2D.

    And this goes for movies as well. The problem with 3D is that is requires very specific circumstances for the audiences to notice it and then it can actually hurt the suspension of disbelief by it calling attention to itself. I saw Avatar in both 2D and 3D and the only difference was that 2D was more clear and sharp. In fact, I cannot recall a movie in 3D that was really helped by being in 3D. 3D is a gimmick. That’s all. Along the lines of motion movie theater seats and scent sprayers in the theaters. Just as it has in the past, 3D will fade away and then re-emerge some later time when people forget how little it contributed to movies.

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  2. I’m also a 3D-TV skeptic, but comparing it to the HDTV transition is not valid, IMO. For the SD to HD switch, the entire transmission chain had to be upgraded – production, infrastructure, and consumer electronics. In addition, there was the simultaneous transition from analog to digital. Put together, it was a Herculean task.

    3D-TV does not require the same level of effort. Much of the transmission chain can be re-used with little or no change, evidenced by the fact that many 3DTV transmissions have already occurred. The most significant upgrades are at either end of the chain – the cameras and the TV. The TV requires relatively minor modifications. The set-top box often requires only a software upgrade.

    Personally, I think 3DTV will remain mired in the “special event” niche until glasses are no longer necessary. (I know this is possible today, but the quality is not ready for primetime – literally.)

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  3. Stacey, are you sure that one person’s view represents the whole industry?

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  4. This seems a bit foolish to take it back to 1992. ESPN 3D is already on the air, and it didn’t launch in HD until what, 2002 or 2003?

    It’s clearly going to be a much easier rollout than HDTV and the content is already coming out faster than it did early in the last decade for high definition, and unlike that transition, the new TVs don’t make the old content look worse and their price premium is far less.

    That doesn’t mean I disagree with his assessment in its relevance to his business, and I’m absolutely sure they are looking at 3D going forward, it would be foolish not to, but it’s still a couple years away from being truly in demand.

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  5. That will be the guy’s opinion but I am pretty sure plenty of other experts would disagree with him.

    I do not believe Sony, Panasonic, LG, etc are just throwing their money down the drain when they invest in 3D TV, they surely have their own reasons and market studies.

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  6. As a consumer, I just bought HDTV for the house 2 years ago. I still have one analog set with a converter box in a guest room, because we’re hardly ever using TV in that room.

    Considering the financial outlay for these TVs, and the fact that I used to keep analog sets for ten years or more*, I have no interest in tossing / selling the current HDTVs I have and getting 3D capable ones.

    I also don’t want to have to wear glasses to watch TV. I hate the pressure on my temples, and won’t wear glasses until I have a medical need. How do the TV mfr’s account for people who do need to wear eyeglasses, and can’t wear their 3D glasses instead of their prescription?

    The whole venture seems expensive, too soon after the upgrade to HD for personal finance sensibilities, and ill-conceived for the whole silly glasses requirement.

    As the kids say, Do Not Want.

    *seriously, I have a TV from 16 years ago that works fine. My dad has one from 30 years ago. Why should we get on a 2 year cycle to change TVs, other than the manufacturers want us to do so?

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  7. The conclusion might not be too wrong, but the premises sure are questionable.

    Technology changes do not wait for incumbents’ acceptance. So, with all due respect, if Akamai refuses to see a wave, the wave might still happen, and with someone else riding it. I do not imply that there is a big wave of 3D out there. But if there is one, it is surely not asking Akamai’s permission.

    Also, there are many routes for content to get into the TV. And Akamai is involved in one of them only. Yes, the internet is the most important channel for content distribution. But let’s not forget that the other channels are not all dead, at least not yet.

    Comparing the transition to 3D with that of HD is not fully valid, because HD had a bigger impact – the entire chain needed upgrade and this was coupled with digital and flat. 3D could be simpler in that the impact is less widespread.

    Regarding why the conclusion could be right: (in spite of the likely biased views of the Akamai guy)
    a) Changing your TV is a costly affair. You do not change your TV as often as you change your mobiles. But TV manufacturers want to laugh as much as the mobile manufacturers are on the way to the bank.
    b) TVs with glasses are not going to fly big time. They are a nice gizmo, but wearing them everyday is no fun. Switchable implants anybody?

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  8. Paco De Gran Torres Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    I find it funny that no one is reporting other innovations happening in video technologies amid this 3D frenzy.

    There is a new technology called EDS that is being tested – it enhances depth perception in even the oldest movies and looks spectacular, yet no one knows! (link – livestation.com/videos)

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