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No, UHD won’t go the way 3D went!

Last month IHS Media & Technology Digest published a report authored by Richard Cooper on UHD stating that it could be the next 3D if the industry doesn’t get its act together.

I was an early critic of 3D arguing as early as 2009 that the 3D emperor didn’t have any clothes on. Hopefully that will legitimize my total disagreement with the idea that UHD might go the same way.

In my work at the Ultra HD Forum, we compiled a list of over 50 live commercial UHD services at the end of 2016. This was never the case for 3D.
Continue reading No, UHD won’t go the way 3D went!

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Seven simple reasons why UHD/4K in the living room makes sense, where 3D didn’t

It’s easy after the fact to say “I told you so”, but 3D never happened in the living room as we pointed out four years ago here.

Looking at the world though the same prism, here are my seven bullet points summarizing why UHD/4K will happen. If you’re not sure what UHD/4K really is, see this quick guide here.

I. 4K doesn’t require special glasses.

II. Almost any content can be up-scaled, making it look better in higher resolution.

III. 4K/UHD improves viewing experience all the time, not just during the wow! moments of a 3D movie, and never makes you seasick.

IV. Four times the resolution makes the viewing experience more immersive reducing the need for 3D content in the first place, and 8K will just do this again.

V. 4K/UHD will make 3D catalogues look insignificant in size as easy re-mastering of movies means UHD/4K VoD will be here before we even notice, which is what Netflix seems to be betting on.

VI. Workflows and post-production may indeed be tough in 4K/UHD, but they’re a piece of cake compared to 3D ones.

VII. Business models and device penetration are still holding back live 4K/UHD streams and the ink still needs to dry on HEVC. But the reason for being and value proposition oh live UHD is clear. What was a live 3D stream going to be used for?

I’ll add-to or amend this list. Let me know your thoughts.

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IBC 2011 write up on Videonet

This blog entry was first published on Videonet.

Back in 2001, I went to the “Convergence NAB” in Las Vegas, the Internet and TV were supposed to be merging. The 2011 IBC wasn’t dubbed “convergence” because that word is out of fashion ten years on. However that’s what all the IBC 2011 demos were really about.

Converging the Web and the TV, converging open and closed models, converging live and on-demand content, converging lean-back media with social media… Multiscreen, OTT and Adaptive Bit Rate were all the rage at this year’s IBC.

3D momentum was so strong last year that some things were still happening 12 months on, out of sheer inertia. If the decline in 3D interest year-on-year is anything to go by, next year will be in negative territory for 3D. The only prominent 3D news was the award James Cameron picked up, but awards are always about past achievement, not current trends. As Panasonic pointed out to me, the hype cycle is now in the trough so something real might come out of the next 3D decade.

In many booths, Connected TV was used for demos to illustrate points, but the devices were not promoted in their own right, except of course on the set-maker stands. Hey! maybe this is reminding us that a device is a device is a device. I saw lots of industrial strength demos, none with a real Wow effect. I’m however told by reliable sources (John Moulding in particular) that the NDS ‘Surfaces’ demo was the one to see to be “blown away”. See his write-up here.

I spoke on the trade floor to Harmonic, which will be covered in this first report along with the 3D discussion with Panasonic. In the remaining two parts of this series I will cover the discussions I had with Verimatrix, the in-depth demo of Irdeto’s multiscreen offering and briefer conversations I had with Jinni, SecureMedia, Cognik and Awox as well as the demos I saw form from the aisle of PeerTV, EchoStar and Telia Sonera.

Harmonic

Harmonic’s Thierry Fautier met me on their huge, spanking new booth loaded with demos. As with Jinni, all vendors complain that the sexiest demos are confidential because operators don’t want to share what they’re working on. But there were two novelties of real significance for IBC 2011 on Harmonic’s stand.

The Electra 9000 is a multi-screen-output encoder capable of delivering 2-4 channels depending on the number of required profiles (i.e. different screens targeted, and number of bitrates per screen for Adaptive Bit Rate encoding). The 9000 is based on the previous Electra 8000, the main novelty being new software. This product illustrates the industry trend towards converged headends that should make multiscreen deployment both easier and more cost-effective for operators. Fautier went on to comment that it’s impressive that connected TV has already become a reality despite MPEG DASH not being quite ready yet. In 2012 when this and some other industry initiatives come through, there should be a further acceleration.

The other key novelty this year is that Harmonic has now fully joined the software encoding bandwagon. The complete product suite is now available as software modules. For the moment, Harmonic servers are still needed for some elements, but commoditized servers will soon be able to run the whole suite. There will soon be OTT headends within commoditized blade servers. This will bring down the Total Cost of Ownership especially for operators who already have server farms.

The Harmonic monitoring features (described in my IBC 2010 report) are now available within hosted services. This illustrates the same trend as Nagra and Ericsson and is a step towards a fully integrated customer care centre. I asked Thierry Fautier about the Mezzanine-in-the-network concept that rival Envivio is pushing. Thierry answered that an IP backbone with Mezzanine format and decentralized functionality is still a bit Science-Fiction-like. It looks like I’ll have to visit Envivio to find out. Fautier asked a savvy question concerning this topic; what do I do with my Akamai relationship with an unprotected mezzanine format in the network?

I wrapped up my short Harmonic visit with a demo of live HLS on a Samsung Connected TV. The demo was as unimpressive (basically watching TV on TV) as it was significant. Industry wisdom has it that OTT services will be enabled by devices like Connected TVs and that the distribution of live TV feeds over unmanaged networks will be enabled by Adaptive Bit Rate such as HLS. Barry Flynn posted a nice write up of his chat with Thierry about the future AVC Codec that will be available in 2014. It’s on the connectedtv web site here.

Panasonic

This year I was courted by Panasonic’s PR team (only by phone I promise), so I set up a meeting with Markus Naegele on their booth. The key 2011 message from Panasonic was “Dreams, Ideas, Reality”. Panasonic is saying that the stuff we’ve been dreaming about for the last few years actually works in affordable products now. I stuck with domains I understand so we talked just about 3D and new codecs like AVC-Ultra.

I have blogged on my scepticism for 3D in the living room before (see here for example) so we started out exploring Panasonic’s take on the issue. Nigel pointed out that until recently, a key difficulty has always been in getting all the different engineers you need to get 3D right from all parts of the production cycle. Panasonic believe the 3DA1, as the first all-in-one camcorder they brought out last year, helps solve this issue. This year at NAB, they announced the 3DP1, which can deliver five different 3D formats including AVC, 100MB per channels, etc. This camera debuted during the French Tennis Open at Rolland Garros in a joint project with the French Tennis association (FFT), EuroSport and the production company Alphacam. What a challenge to combine all the required tech systems together for a multiday event! Markus told me that in the end, the trophy ceremony was too crowded to get a whole rig on site; it could only be accessed by a singe cameraman hence the key advantage of the new Panasonic Integrated cameras.

If Rolland Garros was a 3D production challenge, the London Olympics in 2012 will be fun for the Panasonic teams! Some sporting events will be covered in 3D as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. Panasonic is doing it all. I asked Markus if sports are really appropriate for 3D as they are so unpredictable (i.e. if you plan for full 3D effect during a goal and there are 10, people will get headaches, and if there are none they will be frustrated). Naegele astutely answered that it’s more about the added emotion one gets from the more immersive 3D experience.

For most sports one addresses mainly fans, so if a camera set inside a goal doesn’t get used, so be it – the frustration of the lack of goal will only be mirrored by the frustration generated by the absence of any 3D effect occurring there. Hey, that’s what sport is all about isn’t it? Markus did agree though that Avatar had set expectations so high that we’re not yet out of the hype phase and thus, some frustration is inevitable. The whole point of Panasonic’s current 3D drive is to show just how much the industry has already caught up with those expectations: Markus believes we are now in the realistic phase. Indeed, on the display front, 3D is now getting standardized.

Panasonic believes that although 3D without glasses will be part of the future, there’s still work to do. I was shown a very light dual lens 3D camera that was announced at IFA. Panasonic is now addressing, with the introduction of the HDC-Z10000, the high-end of the consumer up to the entry level of the pro market.

On the Codec front Panasonic were showing off their latest wares. AVC-Intra is the current Codec family name and class-50 and class-100 are currently in use (the number referring to bandwidth in Mbps). IBC saw the launch of class-200 and class-400. AVC-Ultra is Panasonic’s new Codec initiative that will cater amongst others for 1080/50p and 4k formats.

But the main novelty, answering the current multi-screen bonanza, is that the codec can scale down as well as up so there will also be class-50 and class-25 versions. Also to answer customer demand, a new long-GOP version is in the works. To illustrate the point of this new long-GOP format, consider a 50 Mbps MPEG-2 using 8 bits per sample; well the new AVC long-GOP version, in spite of improving the samples to 10 bits, will be available within half the bandwidth at just 25 Mbps.

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My plans for IP&TV World Forum 2011

Like many attendees, this year I’ll be wearing several different hats again during the show. I’ll start as a blogger and a bit of a twit (@nebul2), then put on the independent expert & analyst attire. I shall finish off the conference wearing my active IP&TV / VoD consultant’s hat.

On the exhibition floor, I’ll be milling around and peeking at everything. Last year was notable for the fancy UI demos based on Intel chipsets. This year I expect the other chipset vendors to respond. So I’m looking forward to Sigma Design’s G.hn demos and whatever is new from ST and co. I trust Pace, ADB and the other STB makers will oblige.

I’m proud to have got my 3D prediction right: last year was too early for the 3D bonanza, and it looks like this year is already late enough to avoid it again, so I don’t expect to waste much more time looking at puny 3D demos.

Last year’s OTT and connected TV demos were still mostly just concepts despite several of them having already been around in 2009, but I expect to see more live services demoed this year. I’ll be especially attentive to any booths that are showing OTT services that, beyond looking desirable to the end-user, make business sense. I suppose a holy grail while going from OTT demo to OTT demo will be anything that looks like it could become a connected TV Esperanto, but that’s probably just wishful thinking; I must save some expectations for 2012’s show.

Now for the conference.
Day one: I’ll head off to the OTT breakfast hosted by an interesting ecosystem of companies, three of which I often write about. For OTT to make a difference, cooperation is central that’s why I find this initiative interesting.
Awox’s Olivier Carmona is technical marketing director of a small company with a big vision that dared to nail its colours to the DLNA mast way before it was hip.
I’m looking forward to a scheduled interview with Steve Christian of Verimatrix.
Unlike most competitors in the security business who still only really care about today’s CAS cows, Steve also gets fired up about what’s coming. He often leaves me with a “why didn’t I think of that” feeling.
Next comes Thierry Fautier who is Harmonic’s IP convergence guy. His forceful views on the way the industry is heading always take me by surprise.
Then I’m looking forward to getting the views of Minerva, Real & Heavy Reading whom I know less well but will be there too.

Thus I’ll miss the opening keynote plenary. The main conference room is usually packed with journalists so if anything interesting comes out of those presentations I’ll pick it up on twitter (@julianclover usually tweets if its really breaking news so I recommend following him as well as the #iptvwf hash tag). The only operator in the opening session is Virgin Media. IP&TV WF still has this bizarre UK focus on keynotes in spite of the fact that this is supposed to be a WORLD forum and that the UK is a long way from the centre of the IP&TV universe. As an expat Brit, I can’t help wondering if it’s an unconscious remnant of the British empire: when my Austrian grandparents got married in the 20s, they went to the centre of the world for their honeymoon, it was Nelson’s column. But that was almost a century ago.

Anyway, back to IPTV, I’ll then spend the rest of day one between the 4 conference streams and the exhibition floor.
As I’ve always been fascinated how marketing genius creates brands like Häagen-Dazs or Red Bull out of absolutely nothing, I’ll try and get to the Red Bull presentation at 3:10 in the Content stream.

Wednesday morning’s plenary seems more promising with speakers from both YouView and HbbTV, so I’ll be looking forward to some sparks flying there and a debate beyond the confines of the UK market.
If I still have fee time in the morning, I’ll be going to the Network optimisation stream, which is about adaptive rate streaming, one of my hobby horses from 2008. Huw Price-Stephens, the stream chair is probably the best chairman I’ve seen at IP&TV WF. He’s witty and provocative, so even when the speakers disappoint, he raises the standard. I’ll certainly be staying in his stream later in the afternoon, as a panellist at 15:10 on video delivery for the last mile.

I don’t know if that’s a demotion or a promotion, but for the first time, I’m not invited to the awards ceremony, which is held this year at the end of day 2. I never like Madame Tussaud’s and in any case I’ll be going to an exclusive Warner & Grey Juice screening that evening instead.

Day three will kick off for me at 8AM as I’m hosting an analyst breakfast on the commoditization of IPTV. So far we’ve had an exciting LinkedIn debate with 60 contributions so far. It came in response to a blog on the death of IPTV in France that I published on my site.
Then for much of the last day I’ll be wearing a consultant’s hat talking to clients.
I’m not too worried about missing the Google & Netflix talks during the plenary session. I’ve only ever been disappointed when listening to these big guns. Note that that may be because my expectations are set wrongly.
I’ll try and catch some of the CDN stream, which focuses on where operators are either in pain or see opportunity today as opposed to yesterday or tomorrow for the other streams.
IPTV WF have had to fight so hard to get credible speakers from the network operators (I remember being one of the first in 2004 or 2005), that now the pendulum has swung the other way: in the whole day on CDN’s almost all speakers are network operators. I’ll make a point of trying to attend the presentation from Astro, the Malaysian DTH platform at 3:30. It’s always better to start by understanding the market needs before the offers.

Then it’ll be a rush back to St Pancras station to catch a Eurostar, and hopefully write up some notes to publish here on the journey home.

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Hype-ometer: Comparing lack of rate adaptive buzz with 3D buzz

The more hype the less genuine importance?

Rate-adaptive technologies occupy very little media space but will radically transform the Internet and broadcasting industries.

3D on the other hand is yet again making all the headlines (yes is has done several times over the decades), but I’m convinced this new surge of interest will barely be remembered as just another blip on the radar, a few years from now.

Counting Google hits is by no means science, and you write ‘3D’ in most languages as oppose to “rate adaptive” which is English only, but getting 170 million hits for the search “3D cinema OR TV” (limited to English language) while the search ”rate adaptive cinema OR TV” gets 240 thousand must portray a bit of the hype imbalance between the two topics.

Walking through the booths at IBC for example, you’ll see 3D used on booths whichever way you look, to entice wanderers-bye to stop. Counting the number occurrences of “rate adaptive” on booth walls will be easier!

First let’s look at one reason why 3D is generating such a fuss at places like IBC.

The global economy is apparently picking up after a recession and cyclic industries like the electronics industry need to have something new to push. 3D serves that purpose well. For set makers, there is now a wider and wider array of new high tech parameters to get people to think they need a new TV. On top of the traditional TV specs like screen resolution, size, contrast, colour management etc., there’s also now Internet connectivity, widgets, OTT services and home networking.

This list of features is also used to differentiate from competition. In the end, even if 3D never really takes off in the living room, the likes of Sony, Philips, LG, Sharp or Samsung will have benefited from the hype. 3D is just one of many many features and can only help sales.

Device makers make cool devices but – Apple apart – they don’t deliver cool services. For the 3D revolution to happen, content needs to start flowing.

Apart from the set makers, the other group that have a vested interest in making 3D take of are service providers who feel it would give them an added value.

Now for some reasons why this might remain hype and never make it to mass-market.

Today’s side-by-side trials by satellite operators actually have to reduce resolution. They basically split the screen and send the left and right components of the 3D stream on each half of the screen. Feedback I’ve had has been disappointing as viewers notice the drop in resolution from HD, which is not compensated for by 3D.

3D will have to be broadcast in full HD resolution to have an outsider’s chance of delivering its promise. To do this a bandwidth of 20% to 100% increase will be required. DSL and unmanaged Internet will drop out of the race, at least for live content. So the only stakeholders I see pushing hard to get the 3D bandwagon rolling are satellite operators – and in some cases FTTx and Cable operators – for whom bandwidth is less of a blocking point. That’s why Sky has several 3D initiatives and been showing some impressive demos for over a year, they rightly see 3D, if it takes off, as keeping them one stage ahead of the game.

But even the biggest marketing muscles are ineffective to make a person adopt something that doesn’t bring any benefit to them.

When a movie especially thought of for 3D comes along people will notice. But beyond aesthetics, this doesn’t answer a need expressed by users or yet imagined by marketers.

HD improves the experience of any content, whereas 3D is beneficial only to content specially designed and created for 3D. It’s a funny contradiction that the sex industry was one of the last to take up HD, (indeed who wanted more gynaecology?) but may take back its role as innovator for 3D (have a beautiful body passing right by your fingertips can have more effect that just seeing it in 2D). But beyond that early adoption, 3D will remain niche for most of us for a few years yet, because it doesn’t answer any of our needs. It might even remain niche forever like 3D photography has for over a hundred years.

Aesthetics alone can however make an impact if 3D becomes part of our culture. 3D will have to permeate all aspects of production, starting with design of the content; this is underway, but will take years.

***

Rate adaptive is a lot less sexy to talk about than 3D. Indeed there isn’t all that much to show, except maybe to geeks who understand what’s happening under the hood.

Rate adaptive technologies will however enable the delivery of services people have been wanting from the Internet from the outset. This month’s Wired magazine cover reads “The Web is Dead”, inside you’ll see they mean that it’s video in particular that is killing it. Delivering video over the Internet remains a challenge though. In the media space one of the rare companies out there that was saying this out loud was Verimatrix with their white paper from last year “Adaptive Rate Streaming: Pay-TV at an Inflection Point”. They don’t seem so focussed on the subject (at least on their Website in the sun up to IBC), I’ll try and find out why and keep you posted.

An early implementation of rate adaptive technology from Move Networks led the market by several years and almost made it to the mainstream when they were rolling out web streaming services with major US studios. Somehow they failed in the last stretch. Positioning and marketing must be to blame, because the technology is beautiful. They have now moved out of the B2C space and head-ends and are concentrating on enabling TV delivery for corporate customers.

Rate Adaptive technology is picking up speed in the consumer market. It is one of the latest exciting things from all of Microsoft, Apple and even Adobe. Of course all the encoder manufacturers like Envivio support it too now.

UK’s project Canvas CTO Anthony Rose recently said it’s “essential for Quality of Experience on a range of Internet bandwidth”.

He’s right and there should be more fuss about it in the media it’s really much more significant than 3D.

Bad quality and unreliability have been real killers to both user aspirations and business models for all Web streaming efforts from even before the Internet bubble days.

The traditional pay-TV model may survive in a renewed shape, but even the most conservative execs in the industry agree there is a major shake-up underway and OTT is one of its names. Content owners frown upon many OTT ventures, but to reassert control, content owner are investing themselves heavily in TV-Everywhere initiatives so that consumers have access to premium content from anywhere. That means pushing content across unmanaged networks.

Google’s entry into the market reinforces the feeling of unstoppable change.

As the MP3 and music industries debacle showed, people want more freedom in consuming content. Companies, TV content creators included, need to make money. Rate adaptive technology is the key enabler for both to be satisfied.

User surveys invariable show that consumers are happy to pay for content; as long as technology is seamless and doesn’t get in the way. Price points will find their natural equilibrium on their own.

Finally a little technical perspective [geeks only from this point]: what do you actually need to deliver rate adaptive say in a STB? A recent LinkedIn post by Amino’s CTO Dominique Le Foll puts it nicely in a nutshell.

The most high-level requirement is to adapt quickly and automatically to a change in available bandwidth. All components of the stream must of course remain synchronised (video, audio, teletext / closed caption). All features requiring significant processing must be supported by hardware (demux, decode, etc.). Trick modes must be supported for Fast Forward, Rewind, Pause, etc. Of course the technology license must be affordable and content protection must be possible. I also agree with Dominique that streaming should be based on http. This is the best solution via the NAT in end-user’s home, but it also means that in some implementations of the technology (e.g. Move Networks), streams can make use of cheap HTTP caches throughout the Internet (this is akin to free multicast feature in the network). Adjusting the initial buffering level will be tricky to achieve good TV user experience, but who said it would be easy?

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Does the 3D emperor have any clothes on?

I went to see the latest Shrek4 in 3D with a party of 9 of all ages a few weeks ago. As we left the cinema, comments were all very favorable: «much better than the last shrek», «almost as good as the original», «the villain was really well portrayed»‚«great scenario, shame they didn’t have Shrek seduced by a someone younger than Fiona so he would have had a complete mid-life crisis then»; nobody spontaneously mentioned the 3D.

When I asked the first response was «oh yes I did get a bit of headache» and «apart from the opening scene with the white horses, I didn’t really notice it was 3D», «nothing like Avatar».

I agreed with all these comments.

The experience pushed me to write this blog and say what many have been thinking and a few saying for a while now:«The 3D emperor hasn’t got many clothes on» which can only really interest the sex industry.

Here are my reasons:
Specific content specially written with 3D in mind, will always have a niche, and people will pay for that. So there will be more Avatar-like blockbusters, although Avatar in plain HD (gosh that’s already no longer an oxymoron) is still beautifully made.
It seems only natural that Gaming would adopt 3D, but that’s just an assumption we’re all making. People presume that the games and sex industries will be first to adopt a new technology, but actually, they only do so if the new technology brings them value (the sex industry was most definitely not an early adopter of HD, but was first and to date, the only one to successfully adopt multiple angle views) so there’s no golden rule. 3D must bring something to succeed. I’m not actually saying that gaming will not adopt 3D, just that it’s not a done deal, and even if it does, there’s no guarantee this will lead to adoption of 3D in TV usage.

[Last minute: just read a post in French here about Marc Dorcel a French Porn mogul that is investing in 3D. I suppose the author is right that when a beautiful ass passes literally under your nose it might have more effect than with regular video].

If 3D does impact these innovation hungry industries, it’ll only concern their hardcore from the outset, maybe even for good.

The 3D Emperor will certainly take his clothes off if he’s a porn star.

One of the main battle cries of our industry for the last couple of years has been “3 screens” or more openly “multi-device”. This will be an obstacle for 3D. Repurposing 3D designed for the cinema, where viewers are typically 10m from the screen, will be difficult for a PC let alone a mobile device. There is an issue of base-line calculation.

The industry needs a big subject to federate around. HD was one such example and does bring a deeper sense of immersion to all content, whereas 3D has is only relevant to content specifically designed for 3D. Just adding 3D for effect leads the latest Shrek movie as opposed to Avatar.
Technologies come to enable something new and go when they serve no purpose other than their own. 3D technology will be useful to enable the viewing of 3D content. Even if I’m wrong and 3D does end up bringing something to any old video, the “3D-ing” of all that video still needs to be done. Remember how may years it took the plain vanilla VoD sector to take off because of ingest problems.
Oh and if like me you spend an average 10 minutes a week or more looking or shouting at your kids for the remote, just imagine what’ll happen in the average household with multiple pairs of glasses yikes!
One last reason I can see hindering 3D adoption: as an early adopter myself I have a 450€ HDMI 1.3 compatible A/V system that all my devices talk to. Enabling 3D is going to require HDMI 1.4 for the extra bandwidth beyond HD, which basically means I need to change that expensive sound kit to get full functionality. Otherwise I’ll need to plug all my future 3D sources directly into my future TV set. Yikes again.

I can see one main reason why I could be wrong. In UK and France, Sky and Canal+ respectively, have both started promoting 3D. If they do decide to put all their marketing weight behind 3D, that kind of juggernaut could push mass adoption. The reason they, and satellite operators in other markets might do that is simple.
Operators delivering over multiple networks especially including DSL are severely handicapped when it comes to HD let alone 3D. HD with its fourfold bandwidth requirements really hurts TV over DSL eligibility. When 3D comes along, even if it turns out to only require another 20% (which is the optimistic estimate, others talk of a 50%-100% increase), things will only get worse. So if Sky promotes 3D, that hurts BT but more importantly Canal+ will really want to hurt Orange.
Of course the set makers are aggressively pushing 3D already, but I think they are making a big mistake. People will either think their message is irrelevant or worse, succumb, buy a set and then feel conned by the brand, with the scarcity of content where 3D actually makes any difference. If I were a set maker, I’d promote 3D as a cool extra feature, not the one big reason to buy a new set. As Jeff Vinson reminds us on his blogpost on 3D, «Don’t believe your own hype!».

But in the end, early-adopters aside, mainstream customers buy mainly things whose added value they fully understand. I can easily imagine the articles in 2011 and 2012 explaining why 3D never made it mainstream.