If you’re one of the few in Canada who have bravely stepped up to become an early adopter of the new 3D-capable HDTVs that just hit retail shelves, we’ve got some good news. Bell TV will be airing rounds three and four of the 2010 Masters Tournament in 3D HD this weekend.
The 3D feed, which is originating from Augusta, Georgia via Comcast’s network and being distributed internationally, will be broadcast in commercial-free 3D HD from 5 pm to 7 pm ET on Saturday, April 10 and Sunday, April 11.
The broadcast will be free to Bell TV’s HD subscribers and viewable on channel 1000. Bell TV’s HD receivers are already 3D-ready, so the only extra equipment you’ll need is a 3D-capable TV and compatible 3D glasses. In case you’re wondering how well golf on TV translates into 3D, BusinessWeek reports that industry analysts who had a chance to preview the experience “claim the technology translates well to golf, due to the wide-open, outdoor setting of the sport and the noticeable variations in course topography.”
Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Canada
The situation is all too familiar: a new format or technology has emerged, promising a game-changing entertainment experience and you are left wondering when or even if you should jump on the bandwagon.
CDs, DVDs, HDTV (in both 720 and 1080p flavours) are all examples of formats that wooed consumers and after a short introductory period quickly grew to mass-market proportions. More recently, but with less success so far than the other technologies, Blu-ray has been making in-roads helped largely by falling prices.
Here in Canada, starting March 26, 2010, Samsung 3D TVs, accessories and movies will be available at Future Shop’s 144 stores.
If you’re an early-adopter, you’ve already decided you’re on board with 3D and are patiently awaiting the first reviews to emerge so that you make the best purchasing decision.
But for everyone else, here’s some advice.
Be patient. The first products on the market will be the most expensive, and the least sophisticated. As with any technology, each revision will bring improvements and price reductions. If you need another reason to wait, consider the availability of content. Only a handful of compatible movies will be available this year, and so far neither cable nor satellite has made any announcements concerning 3D support in Canada. It will of course be coming soon, but do you really want to make a decision without knowing the price?
Demo the experience. Recently, I had the chance to experience Sony’s 3D TV for myself at the Sony Store in downtown Toronto, in the Eaton’s Centre. They showed us 3D gaming, and some 3D sports footage. It was fun, no question. Sony’s 3D is very convincing, creating the impression that the TV screen was actually a window through which you could see the action taking place. Unlike some other implementations of 3D that I’ve seen, the emphasis was on creating as sense of depth, rather than height (very few objects appeared to ‘pop out’ of the TV). The required active-shutter glasses were comfortable but the demo was only 10 minutes – it’s hard to say if they would be okay for a 3-hour movie. By way of comparison, they are heavier than the 3D glasses you get at theatres, but also a better fit.
I also noticed that the combination of the 3D display and the glasses resulted in a somewhat washed-out image. Perhaps this effect is more pronounced for some people than others – similar in nature to the rainbow-effect reported by some viewers of rear-projection DLP TVs. Or it might be fundamental to the technology as it exists today. Either way, images on the 3D TV did not feel as bright, rich or vivid as comparable non-3D sets. The point here is that you really need to see 3D for yourself to decide if lives up to your expectations.
Be realistic about your viewing habits. Even though 3D TVs like the Sony model will be able to perform a kind of up-conversion on regular 2D to 3D (sort of like the simulated surround sound that some two-speaker audio systems can achieve via clever modulation of the sound), can you see yourself wanting to watch 3D for casual viewing? Remember, that with 3D, you must be wearing the glasses, otherwise the screen will look like a very fuzzy and confusing series of overlapped images. So if someone in the room is watching in 3D, everyone else needs to wear the glasses too – even if they are engaging in another activity like surfing the web or folding laundry. Will they want to wear the glasses while doing that? The question is whether you want to spend a lot of extra money on a feature you won’t be using *most* of the time. Unlike HD, I don’t think 3D is going to become a must-have feature. Now that I have HD, I intentionally seek HD programming – I really would prefer to watch nothing else if I have the choice – it’s just that much better than SD. My guess is that 3D will remain event-driven for the vast majority of viewers – they’ll use it for the occasional movie, game or sporting event, but that’s it.
Stay informed. As the top-tier review sites and publications get their hands on the new batch of gear, they’ll have some great insights into this technology. For instance, now that LCD and plasma are delivering very similar results in the 2D world, will this parity remain in the 3D landscape or will one technology emerge superior? Only time will tell. We’ll do our best to make sure you’re up on the latest resources :-)
According to industry publication Broadcasting and Cable, ESPN’s plans
“will feature a minimum of 85 live sporting events in its first year, starting with the first 2010 FIFA World Cup match on June 11 featuring South Africa vs. Mexico. Other events to be produced in 3D include up to 25 2010 FIFA World Cup matches, Summer X Games, college basketball, and college football, which will include the BCS National Championship game in Glendale, Ariz., January 10, 2011.”
Although no announcements have been made regarding which cable or satellite companies will be offering the new network, ESPN’s move into the 3D space is a major milestone in the development of this still nascent technology for the home.
With the recent standardization of 3D content on the Blu-ray hi-def format, and TV manufacturers of all stripes promising 3D-capable HDTVs in 2010, the last major hurdle in the in-home 3D experience is broadcast content. ESPN’s move, while not necessarily an indicator of what all the networks will do, signals that broadcasters are ready to embrace 3D.
The question that remains however, is what will this new format cost the consumer?
We know why TV manufacturers are pushing 3D: they need to drive the demand for the next wave of purchases now that the penetration of HDTVs is close to hitting 50% in the U.S. But studies show that only 25% consumers are willing to pay more for 3D in the home. However 67% said they’d pay more for a 3D Blu-ray disc compared to the 2D version.
That’s good news for the movie industry, which already understands the value of 3D: they have been rewarded by their investment as box office receipts for movies like James Cameron’s Avatar clearly demonstrate – it raked in $1 billion worldwide in its first 17 days of theatrical release. If Hollywood can squeeze a second layer of revenue from their 3D titles in the form of 3D Blu-ray discs as they have always managed to do with VHS and then DVD, their costs will be further justified.
But what’s in it for broadcasters?
Perhaps they hope that a new offering of content in 3D will help stem the tide of viewers who are increasingly drawn to the net for their video needs. In an era of YouTube, the need to differentiate TV from web is critical, and the advent of HD hasn’t proven to be a big enough lure so far: according to DisplaySearch, only two thirds (67%) of people who own an HDTV subscribe to HD content from their provider.
Alternatively, 3D channels may only be available as pay-per-view or premium upgrades to existing cable/satellite.
If the broadcasters do start to get their 3D acts together, our friends over at TVGuide.ca have the following advice: 10 TV Shows We Want To See In 3D
Now the question for you, our readers: Where are you on the 3D @ home curve? Super-excited? Mildly interested? Couldn’t care less?
The good news: if you’ve been jazzed about the idea of watching the kind of 3D content that has taken movie theatres by storm (think Up!, Monsters Vs. Aliens and this weekend’s hotly anticipated Avatar), it won’t be long now before you’ll be able to pick up a 3D TV and Blu-ray player that will make this concept a reality.
The bad news: If I just described you, you have probably already made big investments in home theatre tech and are sitting in front of your 1080p HDTV and Blu-ray player as you read this, and both of these purchases just became obsolete.
Which is – of course – exactly what the major manufacturers had hoped to achieve. As the Wall Street Journal points out, the past year or so has not been kind to companies like Sony and Panasonic who have seen their profits quickly eroded amidst price wars that have consumed the market. Suddenly affordable flat screens have been a boon to consumers who have been buying them up at record rates, but it has made it difficult for the manufacturers to re-coup their significant investments in these technologies.
Thus, 3-D represents a holy grail of sorts.
It turns out that the process by which they make traditional flat-screen technologies like LCD and plasma 3-D capable, isn’t that expensive. And with the Blu-ray Disc Association’s announcement that they have reached a formal standard for 3D content, that is compatible with *any* 3D display, the content hurdle seems to have been effectively removed.
But neither of these advances are upgrade-friendly with older tech, in the sense that existing HDTVs cannot be made 3D, and existing Blu-ray players cannot be converted to output a 3D signal. New purchases must be made if you are going to go 3D.
But there might be a bright side. The WSJ reports that, “a Sony executive said it might be looking at charging an extra $200 for its 3-D televisions—mainly to cover its costs and the price of the specially made glasses.” That’s not a major premium for such a significant feature. When you look back at the price difference between 720p and 1080p HDTVs of similar size, there was often a 100% price bump for the 1080p model. I still maintain that at many reasonable distances, you still can’t appreciate this difference enough to warrant the extra dollars. Of course, both 3D TVs and Blu-ray players promise to be backward compatible with all 2D content.
For folks who have already bought both pieces of equipment, the situation is obvious: 3D is going to mean an expensive trip to your local big box electronics retailer. But for those of you who have resisted the call of HDTV so far, you may be rewarded by your Luddite cautious instincts. You now have the choice to buy-in to current technology at rock-bottom prices, or wait a little longer and be the first on your block to grab the 3D bull by the horns, without having to convince your parents to buyCraigslist your old HDTV and Blu-ray player.
Speaking of cautious instincts, I have been less than enthralled by this whole prospect of in-home 3D. While I have enjoyed the 3D movies that I’ve seen in theatres, the fact that they were 3D was of way less importance to me than the fact that they told a good story. My favourite movie of 2009 – Star Trek – wasn’t 3D, and though watching it in 3D might have made it more visually thrilling, it was the superb script, casting and cinematography that made it the incredible experience that it was.
Film and TV industry, if you’re reading, take note: I’m not going to watch 3D for the sake of 3D. But if you happen to have a great production on your hands, and it can be made even better with the use of 3D, go for it… but I’m still not rushing out to upgrade any time soon.
Related: Check out the WSJ’s graphic on the two competing in-home 3D display systems.
According to CNET’s Crave blog, Universal Studios is set to release the first title on the market to use the “flipper disc” format: A single disc that contains the Blu-ray version of a movie on one side, while the traditional DVD format is available on the other side:
The “Bourne” trilogy (“Identity,” “Supremacy,” “Ultimatum”) will be the first movies to get the dual-sided treatment, with all three discs coming out on January 19.
It’s been a while getting here though. EngadgetHD first reported on this new format almost a year ago. While we’ve been waiting, some of the studios have opted to market combo-sets for their releases: A Blu-ray disc bundled with a DVD disc.
While there are advantages to having dedicated discs for each format (keeping the DVD copy at where your DVD player is, and storing the Blu-ray version elsewhere) most consumers balk at the idea of paying a hefty premium for this package.
If the studios can bring the price of these new flipper discs in-line with existing Blu-ray prices, I think consumers will respond positively and start buying these new discs instead of the cheaper, but ultimately obsolete, DVD discs.
For my part, I’m a little ambivalent on Blu-ray. Our HDTV is 720p – fantastic for all of the currently available HD broadcasts/movie network/PPV that we receive. Our upconverting DVD player does a great job making our DVDs look their best. I’ve even hooked up a Blu-ray player that I borrowed from a neighbour to see how it would look. The verdict? Meh.
At this point, I’m not rushing to buy a Blu-ray player or movies in the Blu-ray format. Of course, that could change if the price of both the players and discs experience another massive price drop as they have over the last 12 months.
What do you think? Are you tired of buying DVDs that you know won’t be as fun to watch when you eventually buy a Blu-ray player? Or are you cold on the whole Blu-ray platform? Convinced physical formats as a whole are destined for extinction?