Why Is It Taking So *&%# Long To Get Good 3D Content On TV?

Anyone who owns a 3D TV probably knows that there is not exactly an overwhelming amount of 3D programming available to merit putting on the glasses. The media and manufacturers keep saying that 3D is the next big thing to be coming-at-ya, but will there ever be content that justifies buying a 3D TV?

This was the question being posed at a panel discussion this morning at the Consumer Electronics Show, where executives from various content providers discussed the challenges with making that programming available to consumers hungry for eye-popping visuals.

Robert Zitter, HBO’s Chief Technology Officer, explains that unlike his network’s move from standard definition to HD more than 10 years ago, it’s significantly more costly to go back and convert a 2D film or show into 3D than it was to re-master film or video archives into HD.

Another roadblock to episodic TV is simply a matter of dollars. While a feature movie with 3D may have a budget north of $100 million for 90 minutes to two hours of entertainment, the budget for an hour-long HBO drama maxes out at just a few million per episode. Thus, there is no room in the ledger book to account for the additional cost of producing a show in 3D.

Additionally, the tight time constraints of producing episodic TV — even with the shorter seasons favored by channels like HBO — rarely allows for even an extra 2-3 days/episode to shoot in 3D.

That being said, Zitter told me after the panel that HBO is currently educating itself and the directors and producers in its stable about the technology. Because of the long lead times for producing shows, nothing specific is scheduled to be produced in 3D, but did say that True Blood and Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball recently did a test shoot with the technology to acclimate himself and his crew with working in 3D.

Zitter also admitted that some shows, like Game of Thrones, would be better fits than others — like, say Mildred Pierce or Boardwalk Empire — for producing in 3D, but he also feels that as directors learn the limits and opportunities with 3D, they will begin to produce content that takes advantage of the extra dimension without throwing spears at the screen.

“We’re not going to sacrifice the quality of our shows just to make them in 3D,” he explained to Consumerist.

This was a sentiment echoed by others on the panel, like Tom Cosgrove, CEO of 3net, a full-time 3D cable channel that’s a joint venture of Discover, Sony and IMAX.

“Some of the best 3D I’ve seen is when you’re forgetting that you’re watching 3D,” he said.

ESPN is helping to push 3D content on TV with its ESPN3D, which will be doing more than 100 live sporting events in 3D a year, including yesterday’s BCS Championship. The channel films things in 3D but uses one of the two camera lenses for the ESPN 2D feed. This eliminates the cost of extra equipment and labor, making 3D production significantly more cost-effective.

“We at ESPN may have hit the 3D on-ramp a year early,” said the sports network’s Bryan Burns. “But clearly the highway is being built.”

All members of the panel, which included Vince Pace of the Cameron/Pace group (as in James Cameron, as in Avatar), seemed to be in agreement that one of the keys to speeding up adoption of 3D TV is getting 3D on other devices like laptops and smartphones, especially since glasses-free 3D is significantly less unwieldy on smaller devices intended only to be used by one person at a time.