[By Duncan McLeod]
Television is going 3D. Manufacturers like Samsung, LG Electronics, Toshiba, Panasonic and Sony are in a race to bring 3D-ready flat-screen panels to market. Is 3D a gimmick in TV or it is the future of the medium?
When I attended the launch last week of Samsung’s 3D TVs at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg I didn’t have any great expectations. But what I saw blew my socks off.
Samsung’s 3D demos, especially an animated tour of Saturn’s rings, sold me on the technology immediately. I was tempted to hand Samsung my credit card right then and there, even though the price of 3D TVs is considerably higher than regular LCD and LED panels.
I managed to put the credit card away. Patience rewards technology buyers — the cost of 3D panels will fall sharply next 18 months as competition intensifies.
There’s also little by way of content, at least so far. MultiChoice has no immediate plans to offer a 3D channel on DStv. And 3D Blu-ray disc players haven’t even hit the market yet.
Internationally, however, a number of broadcasters are planning to launch 3D channels. In the UK, Sky will launch a 3D channel later this month. And in June, ESPN will begin offering a dedicated 3D sports channel.
Indeed, sports could prove to be a killer application for 3D TV. The 3D soccer demos I saw at the Samsung launch were spectacular. Even games shot and broadcast in 2D and “upscaled” to 3D were impressive. It literally feels like you’re on the field with the players.
I also imagine the porn industry will one of the first to take advantage of 3D. But perhaps the less said about that the better.
The only big downside of 3D is that you have to wear special glasses. Though some manufacturers are working on 3D TVs that don’t require these glasses, I’m told the experience is inferior — at least for now.
The problem with having to wear 3D glasses is, if you have your mates around for a braai and the rugby, say, it’s unlikely you’ll watch the game in 3D, especially since the glasses will cost at least R800 each. And people not wearing the glasses will see a blurred image on the TV.
Samsung’s 3D-ready TVs, which will go on general sale in the next few months, use what are called “shutter glasses”. The TV communicates with the glasses, telling them which eye should see an image being broadcast at a particular moment, thus creating a stereoscopic image.
It’s one of several 3D technologies with which manufacturers are experimenting.
There’s good news for PlayStation 3 owners. They won’t need to splash out extra for a 3D Blu-ray or DVD player. Sony plans to issue a firmware update soon so that the gaming console, which already has a Blu-ray player, will be able to play 3D movies and even 3D games.
Though I haven’t played any 3D games yet, I’d imagine that they could prove another strong selling point. I’m not much of a gamer, but 3D videogames would have me leaning over to grab my PS3’s controller.
The good news is that many older games are, in theory, upgradeable to 3D, provided the developers write the necessary updates. So there could be a large collection of 3D games on the market soon.
Much more than a gimmick, I reckon 3D is the coolest tech to hit TV since the industry turfed out cathode-ray tubes for plasma and LCD.
I’m not sure how much longer I can keep my credit card in my wallet.
- Duncan McLeod is editor of TechCentral; this column is also published in Financial Mail