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Panasonic 3D Eyepiece

New 3D Technologies Try to Make Your HDTV Obsolete

By Jim Bray
January 13, 2010

Now that you've shelled out for a high definition TV and perhaps a Blu-ray player, the electronics industry and its Hollywood partners are working to make them obsolete already. And doesn't that just figure?

Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that, but it would be nice if we had a few years to enjoy our supposedly state-of-the-art toys before getting back on the Merry-go-round again by a whole new standard or format.

The latest and supposedly greatest technological marching onward is the current push for 3D in the home, cashing in on recent successes for 3D movies, whether in IMAX or otherwise. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the media reported 3D technology as one of the star attractions thanks to the abundance of manufacturers who showcased the 3D stuff they want you to buy next.

Fortunately, it looks like there might be a reasonable amount of software available in 3D, too. ESPN says it'll show at least 85 live sporting events during the first year of its 3D coverage, which begins in June with the first 2010 World Cup soccer match. Other 3D events planned include some college basketball and football contests and the Summer X Games.

So get ready to duck as that ball starts heading out of the screen and right at your head!  

DirecTV and Discovery Channel are also expected to leap into 3D broadcasting.

Many electronics manufacturers announced 3D TV's and Blu-ray players, with one manufacturer's spokesman estimating that up to 14 per cent of all TV's sold this year would be 3D. That seems like a pretty high bar to reach, in my never humble opinion, but I never thought of the Pet Rock, either.

According to the Associated Press, Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, LG and even Vizio have announced 3D TV's, not so much as replacements for their current lines but as enhancements at the high end. Samsung will supposedly kick in a 3D version of Dreamworks' "Monsters vs. Aliens" CG animated film to buyers of their 3D TV's.

Panasonic is apparently going to offer 3D only on plasma units because, the AP reports, their 3D viewing quality will be superior to that of LCD TV's. They may be right; I've watched some current 3D offerings – which don't require any new technology – and the effect was more watchable on my 50 inch plasma than on my 106 inch LCD projection system. The LCD 3D picture was more tiring on the eyes, and I preferred the 3D effects as displayed on the plasma.

Speaking of new technology, despite these TV's being 3D capable or "3D-ready" (the latter of which means you'll need a separate plug-in device to exploit the third dimension), they'll still require you to wear special glasses. And even though some TV channels and Blu-rays are promising to "get in our faces", the programming will still be only a novelty at first. Samsung apparently claims some of its 3D sets will "outconvert" 2D programming to 3D, a concept similar to how DVD's are upconverted to near HD quality in Blu-ray and many DVD players these days.

Though native 1080p is better, upconvert DVD's can be done very well. Perhaps, too, the "fudged" 3D will be a reasonable substitute until more of the real deal comes along.

Special 3D compliant Blu-ray players are also coming, to play whatever 3D software does become available, and Sony apparently says its PS3 will become 3D-enabled via a free software upgrade. Owners of existing Blu-ray player that aren't PS3's will have to toss 'em out (or move them to their other HDTV) if they want 3D.

A few titles are available in 3D right now and Warner Brothers claims it's looking into increasing that library. Warners released The Polar Express in 3D on conventional Blu-ray a couple of years ago, and its current push, which kicked off with the January 5 release of "Final Destination 3D", uses the old fashioned colored filter glasses to create the 3D. It's okay; I notice quite a bit of color "fringing" when viewing such 3D, which detracts from the overall BD picture quality, though the 3D itself is actually pretty good.

Panasonic 3d Plasma

Better yet would be for them to use polarized glasses like you get at a 3D IMAX presentation. I saw "Avatar" and "The Polar Express" that way and the picture looks much sharper (of course it doesn't hurt to have it in IMAX, either!). Another 3D system I remember used LCD glasses that would open and close each eyepiece depending on the left/right image displayed. This caused a flicker effect, but it worked.

If you can stomach Final Destination, the 3D is pretty neat (if you don't mind 3D carnage) and, as with the Polar Express, the Blu-ray comes with four sets of glasses so you can gross out the whole family! I watched the first few scenes of Final Destination on my 1080p plasma and the 3D was cool, but the teen horror bloodbath flick wore thin pretty quickly. I went back to "Polar Express 3D" for cleansing.

Warners is talking about reissuing some interesting titles in 3D, including "Batman Begins," "The Dark Knight," "300" and "The Matrix." Whether they'll be in "real" 3D as pushed at CES or use the old-style "anaglyph" type with the colored filters, whether they'll work on existing Blu-ray (and DVD) systems isn't known as of this writing. In fact, Warners announcement wasn't a promise; more like a hint, so perhaps they won't go through with it at all. 

The "Final Destination" and "Polar Express" Blu-rays contain 2D and 3D versions on the same disc, so if the 3D doesn't grab you there's a good fall back position. Hopefully, subsequent 3D titles will be released with 2D compatibility as well, so consumers can get the best of both worlds with a single purchase.

I'll hold my breath.

Then there's the issue of planned – or unplanned – obsolescence. The question of whether or not millions of people who've shelled out for HDTV's and/or Blu-ray players recently are going to be thrilled to discover their stuff is no longer "up to date"  should concern manufacturers and content providers. It isn't unreasonable for consumers to demand a few years of enjoyment before going back to the well.

Ultimately, 3D is a gimmick, an interesting wrinkle that can add to your enjoyment. It's hardly a cure for cancer and it's certainly no substitute for lousy writing. Who knows if it'll catch on?  

Even if it does, how long before holographic displays make all those fancy 3D TV's and players obsolete?

Copyright 2010 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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