January 22, 2017

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Top 5 Screens of 2010: #3 – 3D TV

For the Number Three Most Important Screen of 2010, I’ve nominated the 3D Television Set.

And, since I’m the only one voting here, my nomination wins.

Some of you may be groaning. Do I really think that there’s a market for 3D TVs in this economy? For now, I’ll just say that my opinion on the issue is ever-shifting. But I do believe that 3D TV sales, or the lack thereof, will definitely say a lot about the technology market we’re facing in the next couple years.

But before all that, let’s take a look at the products themselves.

If you haven’t gone to see one of the new 3D movies, like Pixar’s “Up” or James Cameron’s “Avatar,” your idea of 3D might be a little outmoded. You know those goofy paper glasses with a red and blue screen over each eye? That’s called anaglyphic 3D, and it’s a thing of the past.

New 3D movies utilize polarization. How this works is a bit complicated, but it’s not unlike anaglyphic, where one of the colored lenses blocks a certain color from reaching your eye. Only instead of colors, it’s light waves. Basically, two images are projected onto the screen, each polarized in a different direction. You wear polarized glasses–like big, unfashionable sunglasses–which only allow one of the projected images into each eye. With each eye getting a slightly different perspective, this creates an illusion of depth, hence the 3D effect.

And the movies look pretty fantastic, I must say. There are a lot of people lauding 3D as the future of theatrical cinema. But what of 3D in your home? Would you pop on a pair of glasses and keep them on for 3+ hours, just to watch, say, the Super Bowl in 3D? Television manufacturers are betting that you will.

At last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, 3D TV sets were already cropping up. But at this year’s event in Las Vegas, which ended a little over a week ago, it was clear that a lot of TV manufacturers are banking on this technology, or more accurately, consumers’ desire for it, as being very real in 2010. Samsung, Sony, LG, and Panasonic were all showing off their new 3D TV sets at this year’s event.

But it turns out there’s a problem when you try to apply polarized 3D technology to the home-theater.

In fact, 3D TV poses a lot of problems.

One of the many 3D TVs on display at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show

Mainly, to use polarized 3D, you need to project two images. To use polarized High Definition 3D, you need to project two high-def images. That’s more than your average TV (and 3D TV) can handle. And it requires double the bandwidth if you’re watching a 3D broadcast.

So here’s the solution they’ve come up with. Show one image at a time, in rapid succession. Left eye, than right eye. The viewer wears battery-powered 3D glasses. The glasses communicate with the TV via bluetooth and block out the right eye, then the left eye, in sync with the images on the TV.

This would all be happening much faster than the human eye can perceive. But the human eye can certainly perceive the 75-100 dollar price tag that would come with each pair of 3D glasses.

Only manufacturer JVC is looking to use polarized 3D TVs. And, while the glasses cost almost nothing, it sounds like you’ll end up paying in viewing quality.

Other problems? Well, you’ll need to buy a new Blu-Ray player. Today’s players won’t play 3D Blu-Ray discs. Although, it’s important to note that the ever-impressive Sony Playstation 3 will be able to play them, Sony says, with the download of a simple software update.

Maybe you plan on watching actual television in 3D. In that case, your options are limited, but there are options.

Discovery and ESPN are both planning 3D TV networks to launch by summer.

The 2004 Super Bowl was shot in 3D. Six years later, ESPN prepares to launch a 3D TV network.

The 2004 Super Bowl was shot in 3D. Six years later, ESPN prepares to launch a 3D TV network.

While prices haven’t been set for the latest 3D TV sets, manufacturers claim they won’t be much more than your average non-3D TVs.

And the Porn industry has been taking to 3D as well. Three-dimensional porn films are already being produced. This may seem like little more than a footnote, but there is a school of thought that porn has been a deciding factor in various format wars– from VHS vs. Beta to HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray.

Of course, the only real question is whether consumers are ready to buy a brand new television set. But that’s not the question TV manufacturers want consumers to be asking themselves. Samsung poses this provocative question on its Facebook page:

What kind of consumer are you? Do you need to have the latest technology or would you prefer to wait and buy your 3D TV when Hollywood catches up?

This is manipulative writing at its best. “Would you prefer to wait and buy your 3D TV when Hollywood catches up?” Say nothing of the presumption that you will buy a 3D TV, or the complete lack of an “I don’t want a 3D TV at all,” option. What’s really great is the “when Hollywood catches up.”

I know, I know. I’ve been in Los Angeles for only a week and I’m already defending Hollywood.

But the problem isn’t that Hollywood hasn’t caught up with 3D. Without Hollywood, there would have been no 3D revival. The only people who haven’t caught up are consumers. Remember the whole high-definition thing? The most dramatic upheaval and revamping of television technology since color TV?

Consumers were constantly told that they needed a high definition TV. Eventually, they bought into it. They got rid of their old sets, and picked up newer, better televisions. Then the old airwaves went dead. People without high-def TVs had to upgrade, or buy a pricey box just to keep watching regular, free TV. Let’s not forget Blu-Ray. People had to replace their entire movie collections. I won’t even get started on the early adopters of the doomed HD-DVD format. But yes, the people on that sinking ship had to replace their movies yet again.

That’s a lot of changes in a short period of time. Technology isn’t slowing down, that’s for sure. I just got my Kindle, and within a couple months, Amazon will be releasing a newer, better, color version. But is technology moving too fast for the economy? The last time I checked, recession was still quite a buzzword. Businesses and consumers everywhere are struggling.  I’m all for new technology, and I’m all for 3D. But there’s a certain audacity in the electronics manufacturers that is somewhat frustrating, infuriating even.

I’m cringing at the thought of the inevitable ad campaigns, convincing consumers that they need a 3D TV set to “truly experience” movies in a way that regular “old” high definition simply can’t provide, echoing the relentless campaigns for high-definition TVs from just a few years ago. How long before consumers lose their trust of these advertisers? How long before they rebel at the constant obsolescence of their brand new devices?

There’s little doubt that 3D televisions aren’t going to become mainstream for some time. But what if they flop entirely?

Personally, I’m happy to sit back and watch it all unfold. But if 3D TV fails, I’d venture to say it won’t be because people don’t like wearing 3D glasses while they watch TV. It will be the timing. The terrible, terrible timing. Not only with the economy’s current situation, but also because of a general technological fatigue that may–or may notbe brewing among American consumers. There will always be people who want the latest and the greatest, and those are great people to be friends with. But then there’s the rest of us, who just don’t have the time, patience, or money to keep up with it all.



Want It or Not, TV Goes 3D

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    3d movies are hard to come by but they are the coolest“*

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