3D TV arrives at your local retailer

29 Mar

The 3D TV display at Future Shop. The image on the screen is blurry because special glasses are required to ‘decode’ the image. (Geoff Meeker photo)

March 29, 2010

By Geoff Meeker 

I have written previously that three dimensional television – or 3D TV – is coming soon.

Well, ‘soon’ has arrived. You can now examine and even purchase a 3D TV, at Future Shop in St. John’s. Samsung is the first to market with this ground-breaking technology, but other manufacturers, including Panasonic, LG and Sony, all plan to release their own models in the weeks ahead.

I was a little cynical, prior to today, about 3D TV. Is there really any need for a new format, now that most of us have widescreen, hi-def T’s in our homes?

It was launch day, and the display was still being set up when I dropped by Future Shop on Saturday morning. It took one of the salespersons 10 minutes just to find the 3D glasses that are required to watch in 3D (normally, these will be tethered to the display unit).

There was an animated feature, “Monsters Versus Aliens”, playing on the 55” Samsung. The ghosting effect of the stereoscopic image was obvious. The salesperson handed me the glasses, I slipped them on and… Wow!

My cynicism was swept away in a flood of visual stimulation; a one-two punch of clarity and depth. I was surprised by the striking quality of the three dimensional effect – things really did leave the screen to ‘float’ in the middle space, between myself and the set.

Until now, I wasn’t convinced that a television screen could render 3D in the quality I’ve come to expect in big screen spectacle like “Avatar”. But this Samsung certainly delivers, mainly because the technology has taken a great leap forward, miles ahead of those tacky old red and green glasses, and even more advanced than what we saw in “Avatar”. That’s right – 3D TV is better than 3D in the movie theatre.

There are two reasons for this. The first is the 3D glasses. At the cinema, they are passive – inert pieces of plastic. With the Samsung – and other 3D sets – the glasses are ‘active’, with sophisticated electronic components.  They use a polarization system that alternates between left and right eyes at an astounding 240 frames per second. (Yeah, I don’t really understand that either, but I know it creates a smooth and seamless 3D effect, even when there’s a lot of action on the screen.)

The second is clarity. This technology is built on the Blu-Ray platform, so the images are crystal clear – much sharper than what you see on movie theatre screens. This, in turn, enhances the believability of the 3D illusion.

I should qualify this praise by pointing out that I only saw one movie, an animated feature – the type of film that looks amazing in Blu-Ray and lends itself well to 3D. I can only assume that non-animated flicks will also look breathtaking.

Of course, the TV displays regular 2D programming with the same quality you’d expect from any HD widescreen.

So, the big question: should you rush out and buy? Absolutely not! The 55” unit I saw was priced at $3999, which includes two pairs of glasses and a free movie. You also need a Blu-Ray player. Additional glasses cost $249 each, so, if you have a large family or expect a crowd, it could get expensive. The price will go nowhere but down, especially as more and more manufacturers introduce their 3D models.

While the technology has arrived and demonstrated its worth in a big way, we still have to wait for the content catch up.  Only a handful of 3D Blu-Ray movies are available, and no TV channels offer 3D content. This, of course, is going to change, as more movies are converted and re-issued in 3D, new films are produced with 3D in mind, and several 3D channels launch in the months ahead.

There is also talk about technology that will ‘up-convert’ existing videogames and movies to 3D, but I am definitely going to wait and see on this one.

That said, I am now a fan of 3D TV and, if I was in the market for a new set, would have to give this some careful consideration. When you see it for yourself, you will know what I mean. No, I don’t think I will watch the evening news in 3D, but movies, documentaries and nature shows? Bring ‘em on!

While at Future Shop, I stood beside the TV, taking notes and quietly listening as other shoppers approached the display. Their reactions were very much like mine. Mildly curious, a bit cynical, until they tried on the glasses. Without exception, they were all blown away. I heard at least three people proclaim, “This is the future.”

I couldn’t help but agree.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at www.thetelegram.com.


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