Why I Blame LG for Tragically Killing the Home 3D Market

Guest blog by David Brandt-Erichsen

I became a fan of home 3D in 2016 when I got my new LG flatscreen 4K OLED 3D TV. The very first time I saw the 3D picture on that set, my jaw dropped to the floor. It was stunning! Friends I showed it to all had the same reaction. The most common comment, after picking their jaws up off the floor so they could speak again, was “I want one of these.”

LG had perfected 3D TV. Nothing like this quality for 3D TV had existed before.

By 2016, 3D TV was already well on the way out. That year, only two manufacturers were still making 3D TVs. 3D TV had always been a niche market, partly because the technology really wasn’t all that good. It was fun, but the picture was not as good as a 2D picture. It was subject to ghosting (crosstalk) and the picture just didn’t look as real.

Originally, the only way to get a high-definition picture in 3D was with active shutter glasses, which were expensive and relatively heavy, especially at first. Companies like LG later introduced passive 3D with polarized glasses, which were like the ones in theaters, both cheap and lightweight. But the polarization cuts the resolution in half so with passive 3D a full high-definition 3D picture was not possible on a high-definition TV.

Then, in 2015, LG introduced the first flatscreen 4K OLED 3D TV, with passive 3D. What a difference! On these sets, a full high-definition picture was upscaled to 4K, so when the polarization cuts the resolution in half, you are left with the full high-definition 3D picture you started with. With passive 3D, this is only possible with a 4K TV. Add in the benefits of OLED’s direct emission of light — excellent contrast, vivid colors, wide field of view — and you end up literally with a perfect 3D image, with no ghosting. It is just as real looking as the 2D picture (actually more so) and is almost like looking through a window. In 3D mode, the brightness of the TV was even automatically increased to compensate for the darkness of the glasses.

Words fail me in describing the stunningly beautiful 3D picture on this set. I was convinced this could revive interest in 3D TV and potentially save the entire 3D industry. It was that good. I knew from experience that almost anyone who saw this picture would want one.

The problem was people never got a chance to see it. LG (and every other TV manufacturer) discontinued 3D after the 2016 models. LG cited “lack of consumer interest” and insisted that the cost of producing 3D sets was not a factor in the decision to discontinue.

So why was there a “lack of consumer interest” in this incredible quality picture? I blame LG for this. They made two incredibly stupid marketing decisions:

1. LG never marketed the 3D, never told anyone it was superior to previous 3D TVs, and never (perhaps apart from a few specialty stores) allowed anyone to see the 3D before they bought the TV. I remember going into Best Buy asking if I could see the 3D on the OLED. The answer was no, that LG had a built-in demo and they could not override it and it did not include 3D (in fact they could override it, but they did not want to bother). LG spent millions of dollars on a Super Bowl ad in 2016 which did not even mention that 3D was available, let alone that it was superior. 

2. LG’s pricing structure ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEED that 3D would fail. Their lowest-priced models and their most expensive models all had the same picture quality, so of course, the lowest-priced models vastly outsold the more expensive models. Their two lowest-priced models, the B6 and the C6, were the same price. The B6 was flatscreen and had no 3D. The C6 had 3D but also a curved screen. Curved screens were one of the worst ideas in TV history and were also on the way out, and were being soundly rejected by consumers, so naturally, the B6 vastly outsold the C6. LG took this as a rejection of 3D when it was really a rejection of curved screens and an indifference to 3D because nobody knew how good it was. The next model up, the E6, had a flat screen and 3D but cost $1000 more, even though 3D itself did not require a higher price. Nobody in their right mind (except me) would pay $1000 more for 3D that they had never seen and were never given a good reason to get.

If LG had only reversed the B6 and C6 features and paired the 3D with the flat screen on the least expensive set, the result may have been very different. But the way they did it, 3D was not even given a chance. (I was also angry that I had to spend $1000 extra to get a flat-screen paired with 3D.) Note that in 2017, LG discontinued curved screens as well as discontinuing 3D.

I think that LG either did not realize how incredibly good their 3D was or didn’t care. Perhaps they just thought that it was too late to reverse the trend on 3D. If so, I think they were wrong. LG just did not believe in their product. If only they had advertised it, if only they had demos in the stores (it only takes 5 seconds to hook people on the 3D on these sets), I think 3D could have taken off again, far stronger than before. And both LG and humanity would be the benefactor. If LG was correct that cost really was not a significant factor, it is doubly tragic to lose this technology due only to bad decision-making on their part.

I think that 3D on these OLEDs constitutes the most beautiful TV picture ever created, significantly better than UHD with HDR. It is a tragedy that this beauty is now denied to humanity. I blame LG for taking it away from us.

Not All 3D Movies Are Created Equal

Now, when I say that 3D is perfect on the LG 4K OLEDs, I should probably qualify that statement. Not all 3D movies are perfect, but the vast majority of Blu-rays of 3D movies made since the year 2000 will indeed display perfectly on these sets. 3D Blu-rays that will not display perfectly is almost always in the following four categories.

1. Low-budget native 3D movies made since 2000 can sometimes have light glare on an object on screen (e.g. hair with too much gel), and this can make that object appear in a slightly different plane, causing eye strain. Movies with decent budgets generally have directors that understand 3D well enough to avoid this from happening. Most movies with this problem are not very good movies anyway. Since light glare causes some polarization, it is possible this problem is limited to passive (i.e. polarized) 3D systems, but I am just guessing here and do not have a way to check out this idea.

2. Low-budget 3D conversions can either have little 3D depth (e.g. Clash of the Titans) or, much worse, have conversion errors. The worst conversion errors I have seen were on low-budget Chinese conversions where sometimes people even appeared to have two heads, one in back of the other. These were just not made properly. Such conversion errors are rare, and if I remember correctly are limited to non-U.S. movies. They tend not to be very good movies either. A good 3D conversion costs from six to ten million dollars and can look even better than native 3D because the results are better controlled. (Chinese 3D movies can have gorgeous 3D. Tsui Hark is one Chinese director who understands 3D very well, and his 3D movies are especially good-looking.)

3. Vintage or “Golden Age” 3D movies, most of them made in 1953, do not have perfect 3D. It is fun to watch, for example, the Alfred Hitchcock movie Dial M for Murder in 3D, but it is definitely not perfect. None of them are, but they are generally quite watchable.

4. 3D movies from the 70s and 80s are universally terrible and I find the 3D completely unwatchable. I have not found any exceptions.

David Brandt-Erichsen is a retired research assistant in molecular genetics, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Space Society, a volunteer webmaster for the Natural Arch and Bridge Society, and an avid 3D collector with over 550 3D Blu-ray disks.

If you want to contribute a blog post of your own, reach out to Kevin at greatmediauniverse@gmail.com!