3D Hyper-hype

Tuesday May 3rd 2011

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Why all the fuss over 3D?

Before IPicture taken from Daily Mail give my thoughts on 3D, make no mistake I am a fan of well made 3D films, so I am in no ways against the stereoscopic medium. My thoughts turn to why on earth it is being thrust upon us.

I say thrust, because I have never heard in general conversation, or even in technical ones for that matter, on when it would either desirable or cool to have a that 3rd dimension added to our video monitor or projector screens.

As 3D became an additional feature to TV sets, there was plenty of buzz. Media buzz of course, there was plenty mentions of 3D technology in the press and general media during late 2009 and virtually the whole of 2010. News of this was unavoidable.

Even Nintendo released a 3D handheld gaming console.

I bet most of us thought, “having 3D in my front room would be cool”.

What a nice idea – all the while we have never asked for it, but the electronics manufacturers, media companies like SKY and Hollywood pushed the idea of having 3D in our living rooms, and they pushed hard.

It is impossible to acknowledge that 3D, in their opinion at least, is the next big thing for TV and their message was clear, 3D is right here, right now, so come and get it.

Those of us considering a new TV purchase would clearly consider 3D as an option… why not, it exists right?

Predictably TV sets that support this are more expensive, but in 2010 the street prices dropped significantly, due to more and more models appearing on the market. So you can perhaps accept that the fact that your new TV set is going to cost a little more, however nowadays the mid up to high-end ranges of flat TV’s include this feature as standard, just a question whether the manufacturer chooses to bundle it with all of the equipment required to enable the 3D option or not. In fact some manufacturers have dropped 2D sets completely from the upper end of their ranges. Philips and Panasonic being the two where 3D is a standard feature on the upper-end model ranges. In years to come 3D will filter down into the lower-end models, to the point where it is not feasible to include (very small sets and low budget models) 3D.

There are many forms of additional costs to make 3D a reality. This starts with the actual 3D specs… usually battery driven active shutter 3D viewing glasses. These are battery driven glasses that block the left and right eyes alternately in synch with the imagery.It requires an emitter to be installed on your TV/Monitor/Projector to keep this shutter sequence in synch. This bit of kit is not cheap, it will become cheaper, but for now they are not cheap… similarly priced to a pair of common Ray-Ban sunglasses.

These active shutter 3D specs range in cost from about £60 to £120 a pair. Some manufacturers will throw in a pair or two with the set, but I notice the likes of Sony and Samsung make this an optional accessory rather than something that is included in the box.

Even if the manufacturers do throw in a couple of pairs, what happens if you are a family of 5 and have the occasional guest round to watch a film?

Are you going to to shell out another £500 to keep everyone glasses?

The only alternative to this problem is to consider certain LG 3D Tv sets that employ passive 3D technology, but this is a lone player in a market where everyone else, LG included, are flogging active 3D technology. LG’s passive 3D technology is available in a very limited range of their TV models. I mention LG’s alternative 3D technology because a pair of passive 3D will only set you back a fiver – there is some debate as to which technology is better, and this is topic on its own, so I won’t delve too much into the virtues of passive over active 3D.

Sadly the 3D specs are not the only incumbent costs to getting 3D up and running in your front room; you have the TV set, you have the goggles, but what are you going to watch?

Well here comes in a whole string of new expenses. 3D TV, or broadcast 3D, is available on SKY only, it is a premium channel requiring a premium subscription option. So this will leech anything from £5 to £15 more a month, so £60 to £180 a year.

If you want to buy and watch a film, firstly there is not much around and of the 3D films available most of them were rush or last minute conversions to 3D, so they are, for want of a better word, crap.But none the less, it will be a Blu-ray disc format, and a new release, so expect to fork out anything from £10 to £28 per title.

But hang-on, can your recently purchased Blu-ray player actually play 3D content? No? So you will need to buy more hardware. You will need a 3D capable blu-ray player, where costs start around the £140 mark. What about that lovely home cinema amplifier of yours? It may have HDMI connectivity and may be able to decode HD audio sound tracks, but can it too support 3D signalling? If you bought your Blu-ray player and home cinema amplifier more than a year or so ago, it is highly unlikely that it will be able to support 3D playback. 3D capable home cinema amplifiers start at around £350, but the ones worth seriously considering are £700 upwards.

Last, but not least, your HDMI cables might not be up to scratch so you will need to upgrade at least one of these, and this can cost anything, for a half-decent cable, from £25 upwards.

The only good news is XBOX 360 and Playstation 3 owners can play 3D games once you have the Tv set and specs.

The PS3 has the added bonus of being a 3D capable blu-ray player, their older models just need a software update in order to support the playback of 3D movies. Sensible purchase the PS3 is.

So in summary, moving to 3D is neither simple nor cheap.

Now that the hype has died down, and Hollywood has released some turkeys, I come back to where I started; I can’t remember any of us asking for 3D in the first place.

Thus far every 3D set Tea London has installed just happened to have 3D as a standard feature, we chose these products based on other merits that matched our client expectations. Of those that have 3D, most have yet to unbox their 3D goggles, let alone contemplate the hellish hardware upgrade path that lies ahead beyond the TV set purchase.

So in those cases where it is never mentioned, we would normally inform out clients of the 3D feature when we demonstrate the installed set. It was not part of our sales pitch and it is rare for a client to specify anything, let alone 3D as a feature.

3D should be seen as an optional feature. As and when you purchase new hardware, decide if it matters enough to have it, right now it simply doesn’t. In a lot of the cases, it will be a standard feature, in other cases, wanting this feature will push you into spending more, perhaps more that you were budgeting for.

It is likely most of us will gain 3D capable TV sets and other AV hardware merely through the purchase of new equipment, but not because we asked or specified this when making a purchase. So in time it will as a technology, will creep into our lives whether we want it to or not. The good news is, this feature does not ruin or lessen the quality of your TV picture by being present as a feature, it is just a question of whether you can be bothered to turn it on or not.

It is too early to tell if 3D will flop, it has in the past… it died in the 50’s, was revived in the early 80’s, and has come back in 2000’s. It seems that 3D takes a 30 year hiatus everytime it flops, just enough time for the next generation to be filled with the promise of an enhanced viewing experience.

As 3D will in theory be a technology accessible to everyman (who lives in the first world with a decent income), and as it becomes more pervasive, we will hopefully see a new generation of 3D filmmakers and artists producing some really entertaining 3D content.

I do think this is some time away though, right now, in the early stages of this tech it is not something you need rush out and buy, or is the AV ‘must have’.

It is likely to only be used for a few hours at a time, every now and then, of course assuming of course that you have the means of playing back 3D content.

I did not mention this throughout this blog entry: does anyone remember the discomfort and possible headaches from watching 3D content in the first place? No real mention in the media of this common vagary of the 3D viewing experience…

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