3D TV: The next big thing?

2010-01-09 00:00

LAS VEGAS — This is supposedly the year 3-D television becomes the hot new thing: updated sets and disc players are coming out, and 3-D cable channels are in the works in the U.S. But it’s not clear the idea will reach out and grab mainstream viewers.

Besides having to spring for expensive new TVs, people would have to put on awkward special glasses to give the picture the illusion of depth. That limits 3-D viewing to times when viewers can sit down and focus on a show.

It’s one thing to put on 3-D glasses in a theatre, but “at home, you’re with other people in the living room, running to the kitchen and doing other things”, said Greg Ireland of the research firm IDC.

Unfazed by the potential hang-ups, the biggest TV makers began revealing their 3-D models on Wednesday before the official opening of the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Tim Baxter, president of Samsung Electronics Company’s consumer division, said in an interview that 10% to 14% of the roughly 35 million TVs sold in the U.S. this year will be 3-D-capable.

Panasonic Corporation said it will debut four 3-D sets within months, but they won’t be LCD sets, the most common type of flat panel. Instead, Panasonic is using plasma panels, saying the viewing quality will be superior to 3-D on LCDs.

Sony Corporation, LG Electronics and Vizio Incoporated are also joining the party.

TV manufacturers, movie studios and broadcasters are counting on the excitement around the latest wave of 3-D movies in theatres to finally drive interest in adapting the technology for the home.

But it’s not clear people will be eager to pony up the premium prices for 3-D in the home — at least for a few years — or even that the experience will translate well from the movie theatre to the living room.

It is possible to do 3-D TV without glasses, but those solutions usually require viewers to keep their heads in one particular place. The image quality is also lower.

Viewing 3-D discs will require new Blu-ray players that could cost a few hundred dollars, to the possible annoyance of people who invested in regular Blu-ray players in the past several years. However, PlayStation 3 owners are in luck: Sony says that a free software upgrade will enable them to play 3-D movies.


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