3D TV – The Online Verdict
by Greg Hill

Three Dimensional High Definition Televisions (3D HDTV) were one of the most hyped products at CES last year, if not the most hyped. But being the biggest item at CES does not always translate into sales numbers. To quote the liliputing site, for example: “one of the hottest items at CES 2010 was the 3D HDTV. I can’t count how many of them I saw on display, but when’s the last time you walked into your buddy’s house and saw his new 60 inch 3D TV?” Maybe it depends on the circle in which you travel, but come to think of it, I don’t have any friends or acquaintances who bragged about purchasing one last year, either.

So, is 3D HDTV a hit or not? According to the Samsung home page, the 55 inch class, 8000 Series 3D LED HDTV is the Samsung product that buyers gave the best reviews. Samsung was the first manufacturer to announce global availability of 3D HD televisions and Blu-ray players on March 9, 2010 and is the industry leader in TV sales, owning nearly 25% of all sales according to industry tracker Display Search. Rounding out the top 5 are LGE, Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp. The 3D segment is not performing as hoped, accounting for about 2% of all TV shipments instead of the expected 5%, according to news source i4u. The same article signals trouble ahead as more formats enter the market and confuse and frighten consumers, who are wary of investing in formats that may be gone next year. While there is dizzying array of possible choices of 3D configurations when you consider size, type, resolution, and refresh rate of the various available televisions, none of these has a significant effect on the 3D capabilities of the hardware. So, the choice is simplified by first selecting a brand, because it is likely each brand only offers one type of 3D format. The bad news is that whatever you select, you are an “early adapter” and it is likely that whatever you get will be obsolete in a year or less. But, that does not mean that you won’t be able to enjoy 3D, and future content on Blu-ray media will most likely be backward compatible with your set. Any advancement in the technology, such as improved imaging and reduced crosstalk, not to mention the elimination of the use of special glasses, will most likely require the purchase of new hardware.

So how many early adapters are there, and what are their impressions of 3D HDTV? We looked to the biggest online retailer (you know who you are) for the answers. Our search for 3D HDTV only found 3 models, the first of which was the Samsung C8000 55 inch 240 Hz 1080p LED, which got an overall rating of 4 out of 5 stars from 109 reviewers. The other two were both Panasonic Viera 1080p plasma sets, one 50 inch and the other 42 inch. The 50 inch Viera had a 4.5 star rating from 13 reviewers, while the 42 inch got nearly 5 from eight respondents. The meaning of these reviews is clear – the small number is significant, of course, as at least one non-3D HDTV has over 400 reviews. Beyond the small numbers, most respondents are very pleased with their purchases, and were effusive in their praise. Most negative comments did not refer to the 3D capabilities of the equipment, but quality control or customer service problems with the Samsung units.

Based on the reviews posted at the several online retailers, the feeling is nearly unanimous that the 3D technology is “good enough” in the immortal words of Jerry Pournelle. The price difference, estimated to be from $300 to $500 per set, along with the fear of changing standards and technology will keep the 3D sales segment to an insignificant 3 to 5% for the foreseeable future, however. The 3D technology is currently an area that most consumers are not compelled to adapt, and even though the “wow! Factor” is almost universally at the top of the charts there are insufficient market forces in place to change the status any time soon. Will there be a time when all games and discs are 3D and all new hardware is capable of producing 3D images? Yes. Probably by 2014 at the latest, but by then it will just be another ubiquitous feature and manufacturers will have to look elsewhere for a competitive advantage.

The big question is whether 3D actually adds any perceived value for consumers. Three dimensional content demands a much greater commitment from the viewer; it commands complete attention. There will be no magazine browsing or phone answering during a 3D game or movie. People are willing to commit to it once in awhile, or there would be no IMAX theatres. But they are not willing to do it all the time, or there would be no regular theatres.