Will 3-D TV catch on?
When David Trejo began shopping for a new television, he wasn't in the market for 3-D. But when the Mount Airy, Md., member discovered he could purchase a set with all the features he wanted, as well as 3-D, he decided it was worth the extra cost. He says the technology has grown leaps and bounds since the 1950s, when audiences first donned blue and red glasses to watch three-dimensional films.
"It's like magic," says Trejo, who wowed his grandkids with a viewing of "Monsters vs Aliens" in 3-D. "It was just as good as at the theater."
This year, the 3-D blockbuster "Avatar" broke records by raking in $760.3 million at the U.S. box office, ESPN presented its first broadcast of the World Cup in 3-D, and musicians like teen superstar Justin Bieber began touting upcoming 3-D movie-concerts. Industry experts say the recent success of 3-D movies and the increasing availability of 3-D content is raising awareness of the technology, but the question of whether consumers want it for the home lingers.
Some Angie's List members who responded to an online poll reported 3-D caused them headaches or vertigo. Medical experts say that mild eye problems can be aggravated by watching 3-D, which show the left and right eyes different images. A small percentage of people are physically unable to view it.
Charles Hunter describes himself as technology savvy, but says he's not buying 3-D TV for home use, literally or figuratively.
"It has a limited appeal to be your everyday TV," says the Carmel, Ind., member, who thinks 3-D is probably a passing fad rather than the future of home entertainment. "What bonus would you get watching a news report in 3-D?"
Some consumers surveyed by The Nielsen Company in September had less interest in buying a 3-D TV after exposure to 3-D content. Initially 25 percent said it was "very likely" they'd purchase a 3-D TV, but that number dropped to 12 percent after they viewed a 3-D movie.
Nielsen research shows consumers still have reservations about purchasing 3-D TVs, in part because they don't like the glasses required to view the content. Also, the cost is still considerably higher for 3-D capable TVs — the price can run $1,000 or more over similar TVs without 3-D, not including the Blu-ray player you'd need to play 3-D movies and extra glasses for family members or guests, which retail between about $100 and $180 a pop.
Carlos Lugo, co-owner of highly rated Interseckt Corporation in Coral Gables, Fla., has installed some home media rooms with 3-D technology, but says he's mostly steering clients away from it.
"Miami is a very trendy city, so people want the latest thing," Lugo says. "But the technology still has the same limitations as it did 30 or 40 years ago — mainly, it's the glasses."
He points out that responding to a text message or grabbing a drink while watching a 3-D movie requires you to take the glasses on and off. "For the average family media room, it's not very friendly technology."
But the Nielsen research did find some bright spots for the technology's future. Fifty-seven percent say watching 3-D TV made them feel "part of the action" and nearly half felt more engaged with what they were watching.
"The quality is amazing — it just puts you right in the scene," says member Diane Paletz of Studio City, Calif. She invested in 3-D technology so she could host more "event-like" movie viewing parties for her grandchildren and friends. "It's fun when you have something like that to share," says Paletz, who owns about six adult- and six child-sized 3-D glasses to offer guests.
"Whether the consumers come willingly or are pushed to it, I think 3-D is here to stay," says Dave Pedigo, senior director of technology for the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association. Pedigo thinks 3-D will follow a similar trajectory as high-definition electronics. As people purchase more 3-D products, more content will become available, spurring even more sales of the products, he says.
"We tell clients that this is the next big thing in Hollywood," says George Borghi, owner of highly rated Freewill Automation, which installed Paletz's system.
Currently, there are only two 3-D networks and a handful of DVD titles available, although more will hit shelves by the holidays. Studios are expected to continue beefing up their catalogs by creating 3-D versions of existing movies, and "Avatar" director James Cameron has said a sequel is forthcoming.
Experts also say gaming is a promising niche for the technology. Companies like Sony have already unveiled 3-D video games, and next year Nintendo is slated to release a 3-D portable gaming device that doesn't require glasses.
Lee Travis, owner of A-rated Wipliance in Bellevue, Wash., says about 10 percent of his clients installing audio/visual systems are opting for 3-D and about 30 percent are purchasing TVs that are 3-D-equipped, should they decide to purchase the accessories needed to transmit, play and view 3-D content down the road. "I expect there to continue to be a gap between those who are 3-D ready and those who are 3-D set up," Travis says. "But you want to be ready for it, you want to be capable. It's a hot trend."
To complete a full 3-D system, you need a TV capable of displaying 3-D; a source for 3-D content, such as a Blu-ray player, cable box, satellite or gaming console; glasses; and possibly an adapter to convert from one 3-D format to another. The 3-D glasses from the movie theater won't typically work at home because most home systems require "active shutter glasses," which can show your eyes different perspectives simultaneously.
By 2014, 80 percent of the TVs sold in the United States are expected to be 3-D, according to research by the consulting firm Parks Associates. But it remains to be seen whether consumers will be clamoring for the supporting electronics and content.
"I think that 3-D will be a lot more for a special occasion and gaming than it will be for everyday viewing," acknowledges Pedigo of the electronic installation association.
Vancouver, Wash., member Michelle Doyle describes herself as a big fan of movies like "Avatar." "If anything comes out in 3-D, I want to see it — it's big, it's bold and it's in your face!" However, Doyle says she'd much rather save the 3-D experience for the theater.
"The home can never recreate the theater," she says. "Why spend the money? Maybe 50 years down the road when it's a commonplace thing and the prices aren't obnoxious, I'll consider it."