It's hard to watch TV or open a magazine these days without seeing something about 3D.
Just kidding, no one reads magazines.
3D movies, 3D TVs, 3D Blu-ray, 3D 3D, it seems like every company on the planet wants you to love 3D. And that's just the point.
Let's start at the beginning. Ok, not the beginning, but close. Every time the movie industry has seen ticket sales drop, they felt the need to innovate with new technology. First it was sound, then it was widescreen and color. Later it was surround sound. Shortly after each advance, TV companies would follow suit. These days with 1080p Blu-ray and 50-inch flat screens (not to mention Netflix and iTunes), people are finding less and less reason to go to the movies.
And who can blame them? Here in LA, ticket prices to most movies are $14+, and I'm sure at some point I'm going to be arrested for flogging to death the next halfwit that answers their phone in the theater.
So studios want something to get people excited to go to the movies again. And, of course, pay through the nose for the new experience.
But there's another win for the studios. In order to have modern 3D you need a digital projector. Studios stand to save millions per movie not having to create and ship film prints to every theater. And the cost for those expensive new projectors? That's on the theater's shoulders.
The TV industry has been on board from the start, rather ironic given the history I mentioned above. There is a perfect trifecta of factors leading to the Big Push of 3D.
The first is that LCD refresh rates have increased (this is the 120 and 240 Hz TVs you see advertised) to the point where they can handle 3D without looking horrid. Second, there is enough storage and bandwidth on Blu-ray to handle the multiple feeds per eye. Lastly, TV manufacturers are hurting from the predominance of inexpensive flat panels. Five years ago a 50-inch TV would have been several thousand dollars. These days, you can find them for under $1,000. An excuse to sell current technology for more money? Sign them up.
The difference in circuitry and hardware to do 3D isn't much different than the TVs from last year. LCD TVs have to have at least 120 Hz, (60 Hz per eye with 3D). Ideally they'd have 240 Hz (120 Hz per eye), otherwise you'll get all the motion blur you'd find with a standard 60 Hz set. Getting plasma to handle the higher refresh per eye was a little more difficult, but not overly so.
The result is that 3D-capable flat panels tend to be the best models from each company. As one rep has said to me: 3D TVs are fantastic 2D TVs that happen to be able to do 3D.
Now if it was just a matter of getting a new TV, then I wouldn't be as annoyed with the whole thing. But it's not just the TV. You'll also need a new Blu-ray player that does 3D. And of course, special 3D Blu-ray discs (of which there are 6 at the moment, and due to proprietary bundles, you can't buy all of them).
And then there's the glasses. Oh, the glasses. Unlike the red and blue glasses of yore, modern 3D glasses for the home are called "active shutter." This means each lens in the glasses is actually its own LCD. A processor in the glasses syncs up to the TV. When told to do so, the glasses block the light going into the eye that's not supposed to see what's on the screen at that moment.
Sound complicated? It is. Sound heavy? They are (somewhat). Sound expensive? You betcha. Current 3D TVs come with one set of 3D glasses. Additional pairs are currently $150 or more. Want glasses for your whole family? That will be an additional $450. And good luck if you lose one in the seat cushions or Uncle Bob sits on a pair.
Perhaps the biggest annoyance to me is that 3D doesn't add anything to the experience. I know I'm in the minority here, but 3D is just a gimmick. It doesn't add anything to the story, and isn't that what we're in this for? It's a distraction, at best. And thankfully, I'm not the only one who thinks so.
Will 3D games be worth it? Maybe. I can see where that would be cool. It would also be more natural. When games start coming out with this capability, I'll be first in line to try them.
And really, eventually TVs at lower price points will be able to do 3D. All Blu-ray players will be able to do 3D. So it will become a feature that you can use or not. Until then, save your money.
So when you hear about 3D, just keep in mind that it's hype to make more money on the part of whoever is talking. Yes, clearly even me.
P.S. The picture above is one that Panasonic sent out showing attendees at the first demo of their 103-inch plasma doing 3D. This was during the 2008 CEATEC show and I'm in the picture. Sorry, I found it funny.