CES Dispatches -- 3D hype replaced by sound of crickets

At CES, 3D televisions have gone from the Most Hyped Thing Ever to the Technology That Shall Not Be Named.

At their press conferences here on Monday, the major television manufacturers touted the new and updated “smart” features of their sets. Many hyped 4K televisions, the new ultra high-defintion — and ultra-expensive — sets that are starting to hit the market. And some touted new technologies to improve the picture on the screen or the way consumers interact with their TVs.

But almost no one talked about 3D. Considering that the TV industry has been using the last four CES’s to tout 3D viewing as the next big thing in home entertainment, the decision to largely abandon that push is striking.

The contrast was perhaps most notable with Sony, which was one of the earliest and most enthusiastic backers of 3D. Back in 2009, then CEO Howard Stringer threaded 3D throughout his keynote presentation, bringing Tom Hanks and Jeffrey Katzenberger on stage to tout the new wave of 3D films heading into theaters and outlining his expectation that 3D entertainment would soon make its way into the home.

Two years ago, after the first 3D televisions hit the market with a definite thud, Stringer and Co. doubled down, touting not just a new round of 3D TVs, but also 3D video and still cameras, all part to not only get people interested in 3D, but to offer them something to watch on it.

Even last year, when it was clear that 3D wasn’t catching on with consumers, Sony flogged the technology again, bringing Will Smith on stage to tout the 3D version of his new “Men in Black” movie and touting its new 3D camcorders and experimental, “glasses free” 3D TVs.

This year when it came to 3D, all you heard from Sony was crickets.

But Sony wasn’t the only one that ignored 3D. Panasonic spent its presentation talking about smart TVs. Sharp focused on new screen technology that promises more energy efficient sets. Samsung and LG touted their 4K and OLED TVs.

The only time Samsung mentioned 3D, it was to talk about a new lens for one of its cameras that will allow it to take 3D pictures. The only time Sharp mentioned it was to talk about another new screen technology that offers 3D-like images without glasses.

To be sure, more and more sets now include 3D capabilities. For example, LG mentioned — in passing, of course — that all of its 2013 models will be 3D ready. But that’s emblematic of what 3D is becoming: A standard feature which no one is really excited about and — more importantly — for which few consumers will pay extra.

Given how little 3D has caught on with consumers, it’s understandable that the TV makers aren’t touting the technology. But for those of us who have experienced the hype over the last several years, its absence this year is jarring.

(Photo courtesy AFP/Getty Images.)

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (271 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.