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. 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 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 movie or show.
It’s one thing to put on 3-D glasses in a theater, 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 Wednesday before the official opening of the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Tim Baxter, president of Samsung Electronics Co.’s consumer division, said in an interview that 10 to 14 percent of the roughly 35 million TVs sold in the U.S. this year will be 3-D-capable.
Samsung is determined to make 3-D a big feature on its more expensive TVs this year. It’s teaming with DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. to make the Blu-ray 3-D version of the movie “Monsters vs. Aliens” an exclusive for buyers of Samsung’s 3-D TVs.
LG Electronics Inc. said it will introduce 47-inch and 55-inch flat-panel TVs with 3-D capabilities in May. LG and Samsung are among the companies that plan to sell 3-D Blu-ray disc players later in the year.
LG didn’t announce exact prices for its new sets. But Tim Alessi, director of product development at LG Electronics USA, said 3-D TV sets will likely cost $200 to $300 more than comparable flat-panel sets without 3-D capabilities, which already run more than $1,000.
Announcements of 3-D TV sets were also expected from Sony Corp. and Panasonic Corp.
Manufacturers aren’t counting on 3-D to take over instantly. Color TV and high definition caught on over many years. Like those earlier advances, 3-D programming requires upgrades throughout the TV and movie infrastructure, from shooting to editing to distribution.
Of course, movies in 3-D have been around since the 1950s and from time to time have been billed as the next big thing in entertainment. And technically speaking, 3-D viewing in the home has been possible for the past few years. But there has been no good way to get 3-D movies and shows to watch.
That obstacle is being swept away this year, as plans for a 3-D version of the Blu-ray disc have solidified. Players are expected this spring. On Tuesday, two major cable networks – ESPN and Discovery – said they plan to start beaming 3-D entertainment into homes for the first time.
ESPN plans to have its channel running in time to show World Cup soccer matches in 3-D on June 11. Discovery Communications Inc. will partner with Imax Corp. and Sony to bring out its own full-time 3-D network in 2011.
Samsung isn’t waiting for 3-D programming: It said its sets will be able to convert standard 2-D programming to 3-D on the fly. The effect likely won’t be as good as original 3-D footage, but it will “tide consumers over” until there is more 3-D programming, Baxter said.
Toshiba is taking the same tack. It plans to roll out a new line of five TVs this year that will perform the 2-D to 3-D conversion in a separate box with a powerful processor similar to one used in the Sony PlayStation 3.
TV manufacturers, movie studios and broadcasters are counting on the excitement around the latest wave of 3-D movies in theaters to finally drive interest in adapting the technology for the home. In particular, James Cameron’s “Avatar” has set a new standard for 3-D in movies and has surpassed $1 billion at the box office. It demonstrates that 3-D is viable for more than just computer-animated children’s or family movies such as “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”
“The hopes of the industry have undoubtedly been raised by the success of ‘Avatar,’ ” said NPD analyst Ross Rubin.
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 theater 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. And it may be difficult to tempt shoppers to buy new TVs after the flat-panel binge of the last few years.