2010 will be the year that TV finally enters the third dimension. 3D HDTV made a huge splash at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas earier this month. All but a few major TV manufacturers unveiled at least one 3D-ready set, in all shapes, sizes, configurations, and display types.
As with any "next big thing," manufacturers are very excited about this new technology. When a 3D movie like Avatar
nets over $1 billion to become the second-highest earning movie of all time, why wouldn't they be? "We believe [3D TV] represents a fundamentally new experience in home entertainment because it adds the immersive nature of real life," Panasonic President Yoshi Yamada said in a statement.
These news sets, of course, will support regular ol' 2D content since that accounts for 99.9 percent of all video produced since the beginning of film, but the entertainment industry will begin to roll out plenty of fresh content to pad out the handful of 3D films released in the past few years.
DirectTV satellite service will offer three dedicated 3D channels this June. ESPN also plans to launch a 3D channel for the start of the World Cup this summer. The Discovery Channel has a 3D network coming along as well. A slew of 3D Blu-ray players were announced during CES, and it turns out that PlayStation 3 can support 3D content too--oh, and there will be 3D games for the system by 2011.
Why Do You Need A Special TV To Watch 3D?
To put it simply, there need to be two slightly different images to achieve the 3D effect, and the effect works better when there is a separate display panel for each image. 2D TVs have one display panel, 3D TVs have two. Voila. Luckily for consumers, the manufacturing cost is only marginally higher than 2D sets.
All display types--LCD
, LED-backlit LCD
, OLED, and plasma
--are 3D-compatible, though plasma, the display type that just won't die, seems to produce the smoothest, most vivid 3D effects. And, as much as we've denigrated TVs with high refresh rates in the past, rates of at least
240 Hz (120 Hz in each eye) are integral to a flicker-free 3D image. It turns out those absurd numbers are actually useful for something other than charging a higher price.
As pumped as the manufacturers are for this next generation of expensive products, consumers are skeptical for a number of reasons:
Judging by comments on 3D TV posts at sites like Engadget and Gizmodo, the number one beef with the new tech is the glasses. Just like in theaters, special specs are required to "decode" the 3D image (they force each eye to see a different image, creating the depth effect). Unlike in theaters, people don't want to wear them in their living rooms. Gizmodo user EBone
summed it up well: "I'm not wearing goofy glasses that give me a migraine to watch TV."
His is a common complaint: Viewers with minor, uncorrected vision problems often complain of headaches while watching 3D video, so it's not only lame to wear those glasses, it's actually painful. Then there are the folks with depth-perception problems that can't see 3D content at all, somewhere between 4 and 10 percent of the population, according to CNet. And then there's the cost. Since 3D is only available high-end sets this year (like the Samsung C9000, Toshiba Cell X900, and LG Inifinia LE9500), industry commentators wonder if consumers are ready to drop several thousand dollars on an upgrade when most of them just unboxed their 2D HDTV within the last two years, and especially because there's such little 3D content.
To be fair, manufacturers' sales projections for 2010 are humble for such a hyped-up product. They guess that out of the estimated 200 million TVs that will be sold this year, only a few million will be 3D-capable. Panasonic, a major player in 3D's push to the small screen, offered the most optimistic estimate: 1 million sets in fiscal 2010. LG expects a more reasonable 400,000 this year, though they projected 3 million for 2011. Sony similarly believes that sales will be lean until 3D TV hits the "mainstream," but by 2012, they project that half of all their TV sales will be 3D-capable sets.
Wait Before You Buy
Basically, this new technology is years away from being a viable option for most consumers. In that time, the entertainment industry has to prove that it's more than some gimmick. Simply put, there needs to be more and better content for a lower cost. The real clincher for this new format could be when glasses-free 3D TVs appear. Three prototypes debuted at CES, though the effect only works from, at most, nine specific spots in front of the TV. But when that technology finally matures, it will truly be a sight to behold.