09 January 2010

Next Stop, Wonkavision?

A 3-D television set.
(By the way, that’s what any screen looks like to me
when I don’t wear my regular glasses.)

According to recent reports, we’re all on the brink of switching over to three-dimensional television. This is but the latest in a series of dubious “innovations” that seem designed more with the intention to persuade consumers to purchase more television sets, or decoding gadgets, than for any practical value the innovations may propose. After all, how many TV shows do you really want to watch in 3-D?

High-definition television (HDTV) has forced me already to contemplate the orthodontia and skin care of numerous performers and other public personalities, far more than I ever cared to do. I’m inclined to agree with observers who claim that the only real advantage HDTV offers is to sports fans: it’s much easier to follow the ball when the picture resolution is higher. If 3-D television becomes the norm, will athletes start throwing the ball at the camera, just to make the viewing experience more exciting for us?

One of the early, crank-operated, two-dimensional sets.

For those of us who aren’t sports fans — well, let’s just say that C-Span has taken on a horror-movie aspect of which, it’s safe to say, the Founding Fathers never dreamed. (“I’m sorry, General Washington, but with a mug like that — and those teeth, sir — you have no future in politics.”) Will 3-D television afford the American voter a new dimension in shallowness?

“Vow, is that scary!”

Hollywood first turned to 3-D at a time when television had begun to draw away movie audiences. The film studios reasoned that they could lure customers back to the theater by providing an experience television couldn’t rival: thus the rise of Cinemascope, Sensurround, “Percepto,” 3-D, costume epics, and other such gimmicks. Today, movie studios are at it again, with computer-animated, big-screen blockbusters — again in 3-D.* As television networks see their audience dwindling, they surely want to get in on the act, too.

A great many people are betting that you will buy your 3-D set, and throw out the flat-screen, high-definition set you bought only yesterday. Then, inevitably, a year or two from now, the screens of home computers will be upgraded for 3-D viewing — and you will buy one of those, too. TV and movie people will have to come up with something else then — and they will. And so on.

While we buy more and more gadgets, gizmos, and toys, the battle for your eyeballs will continue to escalate. This is progress.

“But can it core a apple?”

I can’t help feeling as if we’re being had. Ralph Kramden had it right, half a century ago, when he complained that every time he was about to buy a television set, somebody came out with a better (and more expensive) one. But he was prepared — some day — to take the plunge. “You know what I’m waitin’ for?” he said. “Three-D television — that’s what I’m waitin’ for!”

Very soon, nobody will understand that joke.

“Official Space Helmet on, Captain Video!”

*NOTE: Inarguably, it will be easier and more effective to show 3-D movies on 3-D TV, once everybody’s bought a set. So the new technology is a potential boon to DVD producers — I mean Blu-Ray producers — or whatever-next-new-thing producers.

1 comment:

William V. Madison said...

Actually, my guess is that it’s now just a matter of time before we’ve all got Home Holodecks — a new world in home entertainment.

Make it so.