There's something about 2013's Consumer Electronics Show that's different from every other iteration this decade. You might not realize it immediately, for it's marked by the absence rather than the arrival of a new technology, but it's there and we're all sensing it on a deep, subconscious level. And it feels good.
3D is gone.
You no longer need to pick up a pair of polarizing glasses on your way into a big company's press conference. There are no more 60-foot posters with people exploding out of flatscreen televisions. The super glitzy marketing videos now relate to the far more tangible benefits of higher resolutions, curved displays, and the beauty of OLED. The show floor space dedicated to three-dimensional imagery has been decimated, relegating a dubious technology to its proper position as a sideshow rather than a leading cause to upgrade your TV.
the tech that once defined CES is now an embarrassing vestige of past ambitions
It's a weird and ironic dichotomy. On the one hand, 3D has become ubiquitous enough in televisions that people are unwittingly buying it when opting for a high-end new HDTV to fill their living room void — yet on the other, every big TV maker at CES has waved a clear white flag on trying to sell 3D TV as an important feature. Sony CEO Kaz Hirai spent more time during his keynote talking about professional-grade Sony cameras attracting M. Night Shyamalan over to digital recording than he did talking up 3D. In fact, I'm not sure he mentioned 3D once. Here are some quotes from our live blogs covering the big players' pre-CES events this year:
Samsung: "Surprisingly (and thankfully), nobody has handed out any 3D glasses."
Sony: "This is way better than that time Sony made us watch a 3D video of Taylor Swift playing live in front of us."
LG: "Now on to Cinema 3D TVs. 7 series and 21 total TVs for 2013."
That's it, a footnote tacked onto the end of LG's expansive TV portfolio refresh. Samsung mentioned 2D-to-3D conversion in passing, and admittedly Netflix is getting involved in a limited fashion with 3D streaming, but the technology that once defined CES is now basically an embarrassing vestige of overheated ambitions of the past.
It's a weird and ironic dichotomy
The best way to summarize the demise of 3D TV as a technology that companies and consumers care about is by noting that even Qualcomm didn't bother to namedrop it. The chipmaker's utterly absurd CES keynote, which featured every bad pun, cliché, gimmick, and trope of the electronics industry, didn't feel the need to check off 3D.
As a technology, you're not dead when everybody hates and derides you. Neither will limited commercial sales kill off your chances. But indifference of the kind signalled by this year's CES is the truest symptom of a terminal trajectory.
The 3D TV won its tortured, protracted war — you can buy a 3D TV anywhere and at any time — and nobody could care less.