3D Television…Worth the Hype?

By Jonathan Stovall

In a word: Yes!

Well, almost Yes.  Please read on.

Listen up folks…this stuff is AWESOME!

Thursday was one of those days here at the shop where the heavens above opened up and dropped down upon us a new video blessing.  It doesn’t happen often. In fact the last time I felt this transformed was over a decade ago when I watched my first HD program.

It was extra special because not only was I watching a live television broadcast in 3D for the first time but the program happened to be first round coverage of The Masters golf tournament—always an annual favorite of mine.  The HD broadcast alone is some of the best video eye candy available in televised sports but the added depth of 3D raised my senses to a new level. I actually believed I was standing inside the ropes!  Seeing the slope of Augusta National was not possible in 2D, so now I have an even greater appreciation for the pro golfer because I can actually see exactly what their shot looks like.  Thank you Sony & Comcast for carrying selected parts of the back nine for two hours each day in 3D…commercial-free even!

The real hype began last year with the success of Avatar.  Even my mother loved it. I knew right then that 3D quality was finally good enough, but how long would it take to gain widespread acceptance?  I knew it wouldn’t come easy.  First, we would need 3D content, and much more than just movies and video games.  Then we would need to convince everyone that wearing glasses on the couch is cool!  And finally, how much more was this technology going to cost us?  The battery powered glasses alone average $200/pair.  And how much more would the cable bill be each month?  Yet another reason to jack the rates. Yikes!

Earlier this year during the International Consumer Electronics Show we were promised that 3D content was on its way…and soon. 3D Broadcasts & Blu Ray discs were mere ‘months away’.  25 World Cup Soccer matches and ESPN 3D this June!  All the major players showed up with their prototype panels, projectors & set top boxes and wowed us with their 3D demos.  But ultimately they confused us with varying types of display technologies and glasses, which reminded me all to well of the competition a few years ago between HD-DVD and Blu Ray. This ended up slowing down mass acceptance and scared off most consumers, still to this day, even though Blu Ray ‘won’ the format war.  I left Vegas with more 3D questions than I had answers and was worried (yet again) we were at the mercy of our friends in Asia to work it out.

So, where do things currently stand?  At the time of this writing, approximately one million 3D sets have been sold worldwide (that’s twice as many iPads by the way). There is only one 3D Blu Ray title available, DreamWorks Animation Monsters vs. Aliens. There are no additional 3D broadcasts scheduled for the immediate future besides The Masters (at least until ESPN 3D launches in 8 weeks).  Also in June, DirecTV  promises three separate 3D channels that will showcase a variety of programming similar to what HDNet did almost 9 years ago which helped spur more HDTV sales because the major networks weren’t as quick to change.  Got FiOS?…Verizon is promising 3D in time for Christmas.

In the meantime, yet again I’ve been spoiled.  A friend invited me over for a cookout this evening.  I told him sure, but it would have to wait until The Masters was over.  He told me that he’d have it on at his house. And I replied ‘yea…but not in 3D!’  Just as I had become an HD snob a decade ago…when I would watch NOTHING unless it was broadcast in HD. I find myself eventually heading down the same road with 3D.  I need serious help!