The 3D Hype Bubble Is Now Completely Busted

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The evidence that people are getting tired of 3D continues to pile up.

The latest bad news comes from Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, who in an interview with The Independent admitted that interest in 3D is “perhaps slightly on the wane again.” Although Nintendo will continue to offer 3D in its handheld gaming devices, it won’t be a major selling point, says Iwata:

So, now we’ve created the 3DS and 3DS XL and also have some games out there that are really using that 3D effect that we can see, from my point of view, that it’s an important element. But as human beings are this kind of surprise effect wears off quickly, and just [having] this 3D stereoscopic effect isn’t going to keep people excited.

Iwata’s view that 3D is “slightly on the wane” seems like an understatement. You needn’t look far for other signs that 3D is failing.

Consider the box office. Although studios released 19 more 3D movies in 2011 than the year before, 3D box office revenue fell by 18 percent in the United States, or about $400 million, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Last month, 3D attendance hit a record low for the opening weekend of Pixar’s Brave, with just 32 percent of revenues coming from 3D, says the Hollywood Reporter. While The Avengers fared better, with a little over half of sales coming from 3D tickets, it’s not even close to the 83 percent 3D revenue that Avatar enjoyed in December 2009. The days where you absolutely had to see a hit movie in 3D are over.

The 3D TV situation isn’t much better. Sales of 3D televisions are on the rise in the United States according to The NPD Group, but only 14 percent of consumers who might buy a TV in the next six months say 3D is a “must-have” feature. Most people just think of it as future-proofing — something that might be nice to have. Even Samsung, the world’s largest TV maker, admits that 3D TV hasn’t lived up to the hype,  and the company is now exalting web-connected smart TVs as its next big source of growth.

It’s easy to guess why 3D is struggling in movies and television sets: People don’t want to be burdened with 3D glasses, or worry about eye strain, and pay a premium for the privilege.

But Nintendo’s cooling attitude toward glasses-free 3D signals a deeper problem: Even once you remove the pesky glasses, the novelty of 3D wears off. That’s a pretty staggering admission from a company that put the term “3D” in the name of its handheld.

At least with 3D hype deflated, media and tech companies can focus on more important things. Samsung can put more effort into smart TV. Nintendo can work on adding more features and new entertainment apps to the 3DS. I know this is a stretch, but maybe Hollywood can stop putting out so many bad movies. Those all seem like better alternatives than fooling your eyes into seeing another dimension.

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