3D movies today are far from the fuzzy 3D of the 20th century, where blue-and-red cardboard goggles were more of a fashion statement then advancement in technology. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, it became very clear that 3D is heading to living rooms nationwide.
Pretty much everyone announced a 3D HDTV, including budget TV brand Vizio. But the even bigger news came from companies like DirecTV, ESPN and the Discovery Networks, which all announced major efforts to bring 3D videos to TV sets.
But are consumers ready for a 3D TV?
The simple answer: Not yet. Yes, many 3D TVs will begin hitting store shelves in late Spring. And DirecTV begins offering three 3D channels in June. But experts agree that the content is just not there yet. So, when should you buy a 3D TV?
“2013,” says Alfred Poor, an analyst who covers the TV industry and is known as the “HDTV professor.” “2013 is when we’ll start seeing 3D televisions shipping in quantity. Why? Because of content. Content is king, always has been, always will be. … Hollywood is now committed to producing 15 to 20 3D features this year. That averages to 2 to 3 hours each so that’s about 40 hours of new content. That’s not enough to fill a single week of primetime.”
DirecTV is working with Panasonic to offer the three channels beginning in June. They will include one pay-per-view channel, one special events channel (sports, music) and one video on demand channel. Subscribers who already have DirecTV’s HD box will get a free software update so they can access the 3D channels for free. But viewers will need a 3D TV and 3D glasses to view the content.
“We’ve always been a leader in providing the best television entertainment and that sometimes comes at a cost in seeding a certain market. We did the exact same thing with HD. We started subsidizing HD back in 1997 way before HD became a household word. We feel a similar commitment toward 3D entertainment and our customers,” said Steven Roberts, senior vice president with DirecTV. “It’s not too soon for the technology but it will take time for scale and adoption.”
DirecTV plans to send the 3D video over its existing 1080p broadcast technology. Roberts said the 3D broadcast doesn’t take up any more bandwidth than a 1080p video. Cable companies will have more trouble offering 3D broadcasts because they have limited space in the cable pipe feeding video to customer homes. But satellite companies just shoot up another satellite into space to get more bandwidth.
“The only thing I can tell you is the end result is the same as watching a 1080p movie,” Roberts said. ”Many people once they’ve seen sports in HD, it’s difficult for them to go back to SD (standard definition). I think this will be the same. When they see specific content in 3D, like golf or football, they won’t want to see football again in 2D.”
For most consumers, 3D will never become a daily activity even when it is mainstream. Even the folks at Irvine’s Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America , which has sold 3D TVs since 2007, believe 2D broadcasts will continue to rule.
“3D for consumers is going to be a periodic experience. They’re not going to don 3D glasses everyday. It’s a special experience,” said Nick Norton, Mitsubishi’s senior manager brand marketing. “As the volume of content increases, consumers will view 3D more frequently but I don’t think it will ever supplant 2D broadcasts.”
|3D COMES HOME: Nick Norton, senior manager brand marketing for Mitsubishi Digital in Irvine, demonstrates the company’s 3D TV, a DLP that was first introduced in 2007. This year, pretty much every TV company announced a 3D TV. Photo by Register photographer Ana Venegas.|
The Irvine company has so far sold about 750,000 of its 3D-ready TVs so it’s way ahead of the competition. (Many TV makers call the models “3D-ready” even though they are 3D TVs otherwise some consumers may think the TVs won’t play regular 2D broadcasts.)
|Guide to 3D TVs|
|3D TVs factoids:
|What you need:
But here’s the key: If you’re in the market for a new HDTV anyway, the price of one that is 3D-ready may not cost much more. This is a big change from the early HDTVs, which cost thousands of dollars more than standard TVs.
“Any LCD TV that’s capable of doing a 120 Hz refresh rate or better can do 3D just fine because half the time it’s showing the left eye, the other half is the right eye,” Poor said. “So actually, there is little additional cost required to convert 120 Hz TV into a 3D capable one. You just need a 3D infrared emitter, which is the same technology used in remote controls, some circuitry and some changes in (software) programming. The cost is in the glasses, which now cost $50 to $100.”
Most of the upcoming 3D TVs haven’t been priced yet except for the new 72-inch HDTV from Vizio, coming out in August for $3,499. But that’s an estimate and the actual price could be higher. The Irvine TV seller doesn’t have a comparable 72-inch model without 3D but a smaller 55-inch TruLED HDTV is $2,200.
Vizio’s 3D TV isn’t targeting its usual customer. It’s part of a new higher-end line aimed at specialty retailers and custom installers who setup home entertainment centers. You won’t find this one at Costco.
“But when 3D matures and there’s broader acceptance for it, then it will go into (more mainstream) lines. We move our technology pretty quickly to the rest of the line,” said Vizio spokesman Jim Noyd, adding that LED-backlit TVs are now available in most models.
Of course, the expense doesn’t stop with the 3D TV. Users will also need to purchase a 3D Blu-ray Disc player or computer with a special 3D card, plus 3D glasses for everyone who wants to tune in. The Blu-ray Disc association recently approved the 3D technology and new players are expected this spring. Good news for Sony PlayStation 3 owners, the consoles will be able to watch 3D Blu-ray movies without a hardware upgrade.
Ironically, Mitsubishi may be the first out with a 3D TV but owners will need to buy an adapter if they want to watch 3D Blu-ray movies because the technologies are slightly different. Without the adapter, not to mention 3D goggles, Mitsubishi 3D TV owners can’t watch 3D Blu-ray movies.
And if you want for a 3D TV that doesn’t require glasses? Have fun waiting. While some models exist, the quality is not good.
“The way those work is the panel steers the light so that one image will fall on one eye and one on the other. But you have to be sitting in a certain spot in the room for it to work,” Poor said. “And it’s more expensive. People aren’t going to want to want to pay that premium.”
His advice: “Buy the TV you want now — 42-inch HDTVs are going for $500. Use that for three years, enjoy it and then three years from now, move it to the bedroom and buy a $500 3D set.”
|New 3D TVs for 2010||3D Blu-ray players||Other 3D||More on 3D|
More 3D TV news: