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Open Question: Whatever Happened to 3D Tablets?

January 26th, 2013 by · 9 Comments · Blast from the Past, hardware news

4997236801_6f4d4d6d34[1]I’ve been in a retrospective mood lately, and today I got to thinking about 3d tablets.

In mid to late 2011 3d tablets were the next big thing. Everyone was talking about specs of the high end tablets and how they related to 3d, with several device makers including LG, Gadmei, and even a budget tablet maker like Skytex promising that their next tablet would support 3d video.

But then CES 2012 rolled around and shortly afterward we stopped hearing about 3D tablets. Why?

I started pondering that question today and I realized I don’t know the answer. So I decided to write this post and ask for feedback.

I also went looking and the answer I found turned out to be simpler than I thought.

There weren’t all that many mentions of “3d tablets” in 2012. There was the occasional mention of new launches like one of budget 10″ tablets from Ematic that shipped with red-blue glasses. I reviewed that tablet in July 2012 (verdict: not bad) but never touched the 3d features because I don’t care for 3d.

There’s even the Wikipad, a 7″ $200 tablet which first showed up at CES 2012. It then morphed into a 10″ $500 tablet and was supposed to be sold by Gamestop, but I can’t find proof that it was ever actually released or reviewed.

But for the most part 3d tablets dropped off the radar in 2012. After all that hype suddenly 3d stopped being a buzzword feature in spec sheets or blog coverage. Did you ever wonder why?

First let me say that you’ll have to take this with a grain of salt. There are not very many reviews of 3d features of the buzzworthy 3d tablets, and most of the reviews covered the LG Optimus 3d aka T-Mobile G-Slate (mid 2011).

In fact I only found 3 references which expressed a strong opinion on 3d video on a tablet screen. All complained about the experience, and when you consider that I did not find any positive reviews of the 3d experience the complaints become a telling detail.

One of the references was one of my posts from CES 2012. I put my hands on GadMei’s new 3d tablet and didn’t like the experience:

I’m not sure if my experience is typical, but I couldn’t stand to watch a 3D video on the 8″ screen. Every few seconds I looked away. I had to look away, but I’m not sure why.

Video doesn’t bother me, no matter the screen size. And 3D doesn’t bother me; I’ve seen any number of 3D movies.  But there was something about the 3D video on such a small screen that I just couldn’t stand.

The second complaint dates from August 2011. Electronista reviewed the LG Optimus Pad tablet and they were one of the few blogs that didn’t gloss over the 3d video features:

Trying 3D underscores one of the fundamental issues with the Optimus Pad: there’s not a lot to do with it. You thankfully have more choice than linking to a TV and can upload video directly to YouTube with its 3D intact, so you’re not stuck figuring out how to process the clips on your computer. But most of the public still doesn’t have a 3D TV, and the only surefire way to get it to work on a 2D screen is to use red-blue 3D glasses. The larger screen on the tablet prevents LG from using glasses-free parallax 3D like it does on the Optimus 3D, so it becomes a minor headache to watch video even on the tablet itself. Simply put, 3D is a gimmick to help sell the tablet, not something you’ll likely use more than once or twice.

Cnet reviewed this tablet in April 2011 and they didn’t think much of the 3D either:

While I’ve see good-looking 3D before, good-looking 3D is not what you get with the G-Slate. First off, it uses red-and-blue anaglyphic glasses, and while they are much more practical and cheaper than active-shutter lenses, the results are an eyesore in the end. Recorded 3D movie playback on the device reminded us of watching non-cable TV in the ’90s, with lots of ghosting and washed-out colors. The 3D effect is there, on some objects at least, but the whole thing feels shoddily implemented given the lack of image quality.

It looks to me like the buzz surrounding 3d tablets died because the early tablets couldn’t live up to the hype. It’s not clear that any of the early tablets offered a good experience, much less one that justified the extra expense of the hardware and software costs needed to support the 3d effects.

What do you think?

I am not going to assume that I know everything about this story (I could be completely wrong) so I’m especially interested in reading about the experiences of owners of 3d tablets. If there’s anything you might have noticed while reading the blog coverage on 3d tablets over the past 18 months, please feel free to leave a comment.

P.S. I thought up a second possible reason why 3d tablets vanished; it’s in the comments.

image by rdenubila

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9 Comments so far ↓

  • Nate Hoffelder

    What are the chances that the Kindle Fire killed off the 3d tablet buzz?

    Thanks to Amazon’s cheap $200 Android tablet many tablet makers spent 2012 working on and releasing cheap tablets, not the feature rich high end tablets. 3d hype would have been one of the first things to go when tablet makers started trying to cut costs.

    Do you think that’s possible?

  • Mike Cane

    I saw a 3D phone. The experience was awful. It was more annoying than practical. I still haven’t seen a 3D TV and probably never will. The only 3D I ever liked was done by ViewMaster slides. Come to think of it, those were also more HD than today’s HDTV too, being film frames.

  • Dan Eldridge

    Good question, Nate. I can’t seem to wrap my head around 3D, either. With TV, anyway, it seems like manufacturers keep trying to push it, even though most consumers don’t seem genuinely interested.

    There are a couple companies working on no-glasses 3DTV, which is at least interesting in theory. I saw one at the CE Line Shows in New York last summer that was surprisingly good. But like you, I had to look away every few seconds. So even though the technology was (admittedly) amazing, it wasn’t a very enjoyable experience. I felt like I was looking at one of those Magic Eye posters or something.

    And speaking of 3DTV, did you see LG’s massive theater-size 3D (with glasses) screen at CES? It was easily the best 3D I’ve ever seen, which tells me there are still huge amounts of R&D funds being spent on 3D. Not really sure why, though. Especially now that OLED/4K TV is already becoming more popular.

    • Nate Hoffelder

      I skipped the 3dTVs this year. Last year someone (I forget who) paid to place their 3dTVs in the press lounge. I got my fill then and haven’t seen a need to look again. Though I have been tempted by a few of the 3d movie releases. Monsters Inc in 3d looked interesting.

  • ucfgrad93

    I never understood the push to 3D TVs. Way too much of a gimmick if you ask me.

  • chuckf1

    Until there’s enough content, which at this time there isn’t to support a 3D tablet, HDTV, smart phone or whatever hardware you can name, 3D will never succeed in the marketplace.

    Why buy the hardware if there’s little to no content to use it on.

    • kurt

      it does take early adopters to push a tech

      i bought my first ridiculously expensive HDTV (a 34 inch tube – weighed a ton) when there was one channel – Discovery – this was way back when the channel still had something to do with nature/science (yes, that long ago)

      3D is out for me though as i have only one working eyeball – otherwise…..

  • Rick Goulet

    My experience with my 3D TV is that for the first few weeks I played around with it and found that I really didn’t think that converting the real world into 3D was that big of a deal because my mind did that sort of already. Where 3D was really impressive was when it took a cartoon and made that 3D, because you tend to view cartoons as 2D images and the change from 2D to 3D is a huge difference.

    I’ve been waiting to buy a 3D tablet to record tennis strokes in 3D. My video camera can do that already, but I want to view the results on the court in next to real-time.

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