If you’re interested in the state of Netflix 3D movies in 2016, there are some important things you need to know. As of 2016, 3D is no longer the preferred format for high-quality streaming on Netflix; the new preferred format is Ultra HD — sometimes called 4K — which features in Netflix’s 4-screen, $11.99 per month subscription plan. 3D does remain one of Netflix’s myriad categories, and those who have the equipment that facilitates the playing of 3D content can enjoy a small smattering of 3D films. Those looking to Netflix for a deep reservoir of 3D content will come out a little more than disappointed, a fact which holds true for all other streaming providers. 3D video in the home hasn’t gone the way of the buffalo yet, but it looks like it’s about to start looking toward that direction. To understand Netflix 3D movies in 2016, one must understand the state of 3D in 2016.
When one looks at the requirements that must be met in order to view 3D content, it becomes easy to see why 3D is not one of Netflix’s burgeoning areas of content development. Sony provides a helpful list of the steps one must take to utilize 3D viewing:
Right away, the viewers that these requirements will exclude are easy to imagine. Anyone who watches Netflix on her laptop or tablet won’t be able to use 3D. One will need a sufficiently strong internet connection, one capable of sustaining the simultaneous use of internet on one ore more devices and the streaming of a 3D movie. Those who have televisions without all the fancy HD accouterments will not be able to watch movies and TV in 3D. Once all of these requirements are met, there comes an obstacle that has long proved insurmountable in the attempt to launch 3D as a regularly used format: the glasses.
It is easy to go on and on about the complications involved in a 3D viewing setup. In the interest of specificity and clarity, here is a breakdown of the four main weaknesses in the 3D model:
- The Glasses: Imagine this simple scenario: you’re at home, ready to watch a 3D movie, and you look over and realize that you’ve lost your 3D glasses. People misplace remote controls all the time, and the prospect of having a second tool to watch 3D movies doesn’t help that situation. There’s also the matter of the additional cost for 3D glasses: some cost as low as $9.99, but others get as high up as $50.00. Suppose you wanted the best quality glasses for your family, ones that you would be assured would not break: in addition to the cost of the 3D TV and 3D Blu-ray movies (which are typically more expensive than standard Blu-rays), you could be paying as high as $200 dollars for a set of four 3D glasses (for those expecting to watch 3D movies with friends or family). Instead of being able to just sit down and watch what you want to watch, there’s an additional element brought into the 3D viewing experience that many are not keen on.
- The Cost: As alluded to in the previous point, 3D viewing is more expensive than either the standard (DVD) or high-def (Blu-ray) viewing experiences, meaning only those fortunate enough to spend at a certain price point will be able to fully invest in 3D video.
- Not All Movies and TV Shows Look Good in 3D: This is perhaps the most damning flaw in the 3D model. Some movies excel in the 3D form: see, for example, Tron: Legacy, Beowulf (2007 version; see image and list below), and the global juggernaut that is James Cameron’s Avatar. Movies that succeed in the 3D format are those movies that were designed specifically to look best in 3D. The flashy neons of Tron: Legacy and the pseudo-rotoscoped animation of Beowulf look stunning in 3D, but the same cannot be said for the overwhelming majority of films and TV shows. There’s no 3D Law and Order: SVU. Even the visually rich Lord of the Rings trilogy was shot on cameras non-conducive to 3D viewing. As such, in order to make the 3D viewing experience worth the money, you have to be deeply invested in 3D cinema specifically; otherwise, you’ll end up occasionally watching a 3D movie, but on the whole will continue to watch mostly non-3D content.
- There Are Not that Many 3D Titles: This follows from the last point. Because 3D movies are so expensive to make, and because the consumer technology available to enable 3D viewing in the home is cost-prohibitive for most, there are simply not enough 3D movie titles out there to justify setting up a 3D rig at home only to use it for a small subset of movies. Admittedly, the flashy colors and Daft Punk soundtrack of Tron: Legacy are awesome (threadbare plot notwithstanding), unless you watch that movie every day, the cost/benefit analysis is against 3D.
Even if one puts aside these four hurdles that 3D must vault in order to justify its own expenses, it is simply the case that 3D arrived at an inopportune time. 3D arrived co-terminus with HD viewing, which to many consumers was a huge improvement over the standard viewing experience. Writing in 2014 for The Huffington Post, Kenny Francis notes, “Watching TV in HD is a technology that has been adopted by about 60 percent of television viewers.” Well over half of TV users watch their shows in HD, and making the leap from HD to 3D is more marginal than, say, had 3D been the first step after standard definition (SD). The impact of the proliferation of HD TVs on 3D is obvious from a cost/benefit perspective. Derrick Wlodarz writes,
Tube TVs got the heave-ho over the course of the last decade, and most of these TVs already offer the features people want. What does 3D offer them beyond a half-baked, impractical experience so far? Seeing as flat screens are only lasting longer (an average TV is now rated for 6.85 years of continuous playing — converted to real world usage, that’s a long time) this means the incentive for people to replace their current sets is very low.
No matter how cool 3D viewing can be at times, implementing 3D viewing as a permanent viewing experience akin to SD, HD, or Ultra HD/4K is an unwise move for most consumers. Wlodarz calls 3D “a huge mountain to climb” for the average person.
More likely to be successful is Ultra-HD or 4K, which Netflix already includes in its 4-screen subscription plan. Francis explains, “On the horizon is 4K TV or what is being referred to as “ultra HD.” Like 3D, 4K is expensive for the consumer, with prices starting around $2,000 for a TV, but the picture quality is so clear that it appears as though it’s 3D; as if it’s popping off the screen but you don’t have to wear glasses to watch.” Right away, 4K offers an advantage that 3D doesn’t, which helps explain why Netflix has already incorporated that into its streaming plans: no need for extra equipment. If 4K TV proves attractive to enough consumers, and more filmmakers start producing films and TV shows that are able to look good in 4K, costs will eventually go down to make the product widely available to more consumers. 4K is expensive at the moment, but that is in large part because it is in its nascent stages; because it is supported by companies like Netflix and is far more accessible than 3D, 4K has a far more promising future. As a result of this, if any investment is going to be made into high-definition viewing, it will be far more likely done on 4K rather than 3D.
This is not to say that 4K will be a rousing overnight success. Francis points out that “a large portion of networks and advertisers have yet to adapt to HD which was introduced back in 2009,” which is explained by this asymmetry in TV and technology development: “technology is advancing faster than the average consumers can adapt to it.” 4K’s future is far brighter than 3D’s ever was, but this is no reason to assume Netflix will be full-4K anytime soon.
So, in short: 3D is in a sorry state. The idea behind 3D was inventive enough, but with all possible practicalities taken into consideration, 3D is a better concept than it is a business model. Some films are lucky enough to benefit from the 3D style, but most aren’t, and as a consequence, most consumers simply won’t fork over the funds to finance a luxurious 3D setup.
Yet if 3D is dying, as some have suggested, it is not fully dead yet on the Netflix lineup, which still offers a small range of 3D titles for those Netflix subscribers who have the hardware to support the eye-popping images. Here is the most recent list of Netflix 3D titles, as of 2016 (source):
- A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures
- Angelo Rules 3D (TV Series)
- Animals United
- Animen: The Galactic Battle
- Dino King
- Don 2
- Flying Swords of Dragon Gate
- Little Brother Big Trouble: A Christmas Adventure
- Oscar’s Oasis 3D (TV Series)
- Plankton Invasion 3D (TV Series)
- Sadako 3D
- Saving Santa
- The Art of Flight
- The Hole
- Thor: Legend of the Magical Hammer
This list wasn’t cut short; this is really all there is to 3D and Netflix. Not even Netflix’s infamous “secret codes” will help you find more 3D than is mentioned in the list above.
Those who like the feeling of having a favorite movie quite literally leap out of a screen will be disappointed by Netflix’s 3D movies in 2016. There isn’t much there, and what is there is designed only to appeal to small demographics: young children and fans of science fiction/fantasy, namely. The incorporation of even this sparse set of 3D films and TV shows does reveal Netflix’s desire to try its hand at the cutting edge of viewing technology, even if that technology is not as ubiquitous as other forms of definition (e.g. SD and HD). Admirable though that desire is, in 2016, 3D movies on Netflix are baling water on a sinking ship.