Channel 4 kills 3D

It’s been a great week for TV viewing in the UK, at least if you like novelty glasses and you’re the sort with a hankering for 55 year old footage of the Queen’s Coronation, or a so bad, it’s still bad Frankenstein movie.

Yes, it’s been all about 3D TV this week, with Channel 4 supplementing some of its usual fare of teen sex and house-buying with some of the highlights of the 3D TV genre.

Apparently, there aren’t many highlights of the 3D TV genre. Channel 4’s contribution to the latest development in TV would appear to have been secretly funded by the hitherto underground 2D TV rebellion, so poverty stricken is its offering.

At IBC in Amsterdam this last September, broadcast service providers like *NDS* were showcasing their 3D efforts with content such as U2 concert footage or the 2008 Superbowl.

Not so in the UK, where Channel 4’s audiences were offered 3D viewings of the Paul O’Grady chat show, Her Majesty the Queen’s 1954 Coronation Year, Paul Morrissey’s Warholian excess-all-areas Flesh for Frankenstein movie, some magicians doing some magic and a collection of the ‘Greatest Ever 3D Moments,” which excluded the earlier offerings due to the fact they weren’t great, ever.

The glasses, with which Channel 4 viewers were to witness these epoch-ending programmes, were provided by UK retail giant Sainsbury’s, which has now unluckily hitched its brand to the lamest of ducks. One can imagine Sainsbury’s marketing juniors forced to shovel thousands of pairs of 3D glasses into an illegal landfill dump somewhere in the English countryside.

3D TV has enough problems without Channel 4 sabotaging its chances with an offering so feeble it really does seem as though the Channel has it in for the Third Dimension, based on some Dan Brown/Vatican/Freemason conspiracy.

Going back to *NDS*, they’re being properly careful about the 3D model. Judging by the superb sample content, the technology is more than capable of providing an arresting 3D experience, with a resounding “wow” factor.

However, *NDS*` developers are trying to work out the potential psycho-physiological effects of watching 3D TV. For example, will prolonged 3D viewing cause any eyestrain, or headaches, or a fearful desire to jump behind the sofa when that Big Crown is brought down on the Queen’s Nice Hair?

And of course, there is the debate surrounding a 3D standard. Britain’s Royal National Institute for the Blind contends 3D programmes should always have a 2D option, the 2D-Plus format.

The RNIB is concerned that people with visual impairment may experience hazards such as motion sickness, eye fatigue and even photosensitive seizures from “full” 3D pictures. ITV is one broadcaster that supports this move. If pursued into a standard, this 2D-Plus format may require new set-top boxes.

The European Broadcasting Union supports such an initiative, even going so far as to propose on-screen public warnings about the possible side effects of watching 3D for long periods.

However, BSkyB leads another strand of opinion, which believes there is no need for a new standard, let alone any special advice to the public. Sky’s option would work through existing HD set-top boxes.

Standards and seizures aside, the 3D debate also goes to the bottom line. How do you get a return on the massive investment required? Technology manufacturers are happily at the front of the ROI queue, but channels are chafing at the back. In an always-bearish advertising market they won’t be able to charge more for commercial spots during 3D programmes. In turn, they won’t pay much of a premium for 3D content. Hence Channel 4’s cheapo 3D output.

Commercial broadcasters are still working out how to recoup investment on HD, let alone adding another somethingD. Perhaps Channel 4’s mind-numbing efforts were actually a deliberate attempt to make 3D so unattractive it will kill public demand and buy beleaguered broadcasters some time to get their HD money back.

Channel 4 has also provided another reason to reject 3D for the moment. It announced this week a unique Dragonfly 2D co-production with National Geographic, Pro Sieben and ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

They are going to crash a 300-seat passenger jet into a desert. That’s correct. Filled with luckless Crash Test Dummies, the jet will be filmed so we can all see exactly what things happen inside a big aviation disaster. Bad things.

The pilots will parachute clear from the jet, unlike the dummies, whose generally inanimate nature will discourage them from screaming, praying, repenting or otherwise responding to their fate. For them, it’s just another violent day at the office.

Plane Crash, as it has been so creatively titled, is a very good reason why 3D TV might be left well alone. It’s going to be terrifying enough in 2D. Imagine a full 3D version, with all those disintergrating, burning Channel 4 dummies flying into your living room.