Friday, December 10, 2010
NEWS FLASH - Main Street USA: 3D is here to stay ... Or is it?
The burgeoning 3D Home Theater format and it's big Cinema brother may have just run their course (Again)!
--- Written by Jeremy R. Kipnis / Copyright 2010 Kipnis Studios ---
It has been nearly one year since I first reported on 3D Television's introduction as a new home entertainment format in Home Theater Review:
Since then, the number of 3D capable displays, Blu-Ray players, and 3D glasses options have more than tripled, with complete packages (usually packaged for 2 people) well below $2,000 from no less than six companies, thanks in large part to discount chains and wide distribution in the USA and Canada at specialty electronics stores. Although the trickle down effect of automated miniature IC manufacture has given flight to affordable 3D for the masses, software possibilities remain fleeting, with slightly more than 50 titles in circulation as of this writing; and only very recently, Avatar (The Theatrical Cut) in 3D, through a special promotion with Panasonic. So if the technology is prevalent, it remains largely a mystery to most people, with statements such as, "Well, looks good. But so what? What is there to watch on it, anyway?" And while there is agreement about the technicalities and standards for 3D home viewing (and playing video games) - meaning that for the first time since the introduction of the CD in 1983, we do not have a format war, 3D is far from creating the dynamic impact that it might have, starting over a year ago.
A recent survey I undertook from the New York City area up through Bar Harbor, Maine clearly revealed where the strengths and weaknesses are in the burgeoning 3D format. In major metropolitan areas, there are plenty of 3D systems on display from companies like Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, and LG--in addition to the 2nd Generation of Mitsubishi rear-projection DLP TVs, the recent SIM2 twin-projector set-ups. And of course the myriad of high-end solutions like Digital Projection Inc's single projector and 3D media server options, all of which were reviewed beginning last December 2009. But recent additions to the market can be seen in both large discount chains like Costco, Target, and Wal-Mart as well as electronic specialty retailers like Best Buy, PC Richards, and probably your local neighborhood Stereo & Video shop, as well. Each major display manufacturer has its own flavor of kiosk at the chains, featuring one or two pair of 3D glasses (controlled by an IR transmitter) that are held captive in an adjustable height enclosure or via a coiled metal wire. And each manufacturer also has there own demo disc, wherein varieties of movies, concerts, video games, and typical demonstration footage are shown in a loop. None of this demo material is duplicated between discs, and therefore differences in image quality are hard to discern without direct comparison.
Most recently at the largest chains, Panasonic has been offering a package deal featuring one of their 46" Plasma TVs, a 3D BD player, along with a package containing two pairs of glasses, an IR transmitter, and two discs (an IMAX feature, and some other movie) for less than $1,700. What a bargain! Add another $1,000 and there is a 55" Samsung and 3D BD player, with twin glasses / IR transmitter / and two movies for just over $3,000. And SONY has two offerings (a 55" and a 60") that include a 3D BD player / 5.1 Surround Receiver with speakers and sub, along with two pairs of 3D glasses and IR emitter topping out at $3,300. Picture quality varies somewhat with the technology as one might expect, with the Panasonic offering the smallest and darkest images when viewed through the supplied (brand specific) glasses. SONY offers the largest and sharpest images, but with some degree of ghosting visible, particularly when one tilts one's head. Samsung has the brightest image on display with the best, most interesting demo material. But their kiosk places the viewer within 4 feet of the display and I found the pixel structure to be quite visible and distracting at this distance. The 3D effect varies with the display type, distance, and choice of glasses technology, but I enjoyed the Samsung the best out of the flat panels.
The specialty stores have been carrying 3D for almost a year now, and most sets have been sold on the basis of better performance in 2D as well as being ready when 3D programming truly becomes available regularly from ESPN and Direct-TV. But what is the holdup? Mitsubishi continues to offer single-chip DLP rear-projection from 50" up to 82", with the usual 3D package for two people topping out at $4,500. At the very top-end, Digital Projection Inc. has also been offering a wide variety of DLP projectors (single and triple chip) but they are intended for front projection (installed though a dedicated dealership, who can also potentially make these rear-projection) offering the possibility of truly cinema-sized 3D (& 2D) images in a dedicated light-controlled home theater environment. Front-projection is necessarily more expensive, as it involves the addition of a separate screen (and sometimes a dedicated one for 3D material, alone), but the size and scope of 3D at or near life-size is extremely compelling, particularly when watching live sports or playing video games. Also offering several 3D front-projection options, but utilizing twin projectors for better image quality is SIM2, whose C3X Lumis Host ($35k) and top end HT6000E ($65K) can be installed in pairs to create the ultimate in 3D home cinema. The use of two projectors results in twice the normally expected light output, as well as offering more visual stability over the typical alternating L / R methodology found with single front projector installations, current DLP rear projectors, and all flat panel Plasma and LCD displays over 32" diagonally. This translates into a much more solid and believable image, with far less eye strain and associated brain fatigue than is typical, and follows the top-end approach established by SONY in current AMC Loews Theaters and future Regal Cinemas around the world, featuring Sony's SXRD 4K digital projection technology.
In spite of these many offerings from so many qualified display manufacturers during the first year of this otherwise promising format, it remains a mystery to me why we do not yet have tons of 3D programming to enjoy. Why are the demo movies, concerts, and TV programs not currently available as separate products for the most part? And why did it take almost a year for AVATAR - James Cameron and Panasonic's 3D opus to appear on 3D Blu-ray Disc? Surely, with no format war, we should be seeing as much software as we did when CD first came out in 1983: several hundred titles within the first year, and from a variety of producers. So if you're like so many people I talked to you are waiting to upgrade (yet again) to an all new TV, BD/DVD player, etc. only if and when something worth watching comes along. And what of the video games, and the fact that all PS3 are now 3D capable as of the last firmware update in October? Where are the lions share of 3D games seen on the demo BDs over the last year? Sure, there are two or three 3D (Test) channels on some cable and satellite providers, but you are largely limited to watching what is on at that time, and not very much of it is available on-demand.
Are we in the 21st Century? Get with it Hollywood - and stop teasing us. Otherwise, 3D is not going to be going anywhere, fast!
I'd like to hear from you about your personal observations and feelings regarding the new 3D Home Theater and Cinema formats and their (possible) future.
Please take a moment to comment, below!
Composed on the Kipnis Studio Standard (KSS) - iPad Interface