TV makers pushing 3D at home

Consumer electronics makers, including most of those on display at IFA-Berlin, say 3D at home is the next step in entertainment. But are consumers buying it?

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
4 min read

3D home video
Are people as interested in 3D at home as manufacturers think? These IFA-goers appear to be, anyway. Erica Ogg/CNET

BERLIN--Without a doubt, 3D has garnered the most buzz here at IFA this year.

Many of the biggest names in consumer technology are pushing not only 3D cinema, but watching 3D movies and playing 3D games at home.

Earlier this week, Sony CEO Howard Stringer promised Blu-ray players, PlayStation 3, and laptops that will be "3D compatible" next year. Panasonic used the upcoming James Cameron flick "Avatar" to push its "Full HD 3D" idea, and Nvidia and JVC are also showing off monitors and TVs that will make even PC video game playing three-dimensional.

Despite their obvious enthusiasm for the idea, so far there isn't much evidence that consumers actually want 3D in their homes. Most people are still getting used to paying extra to watch it in the theaters while sporting a pair of plastic spectacles, and some still complain that it's hard on the eyes to watch anything in 3D longer than 10 minutes. So why are gadget makers so excited about it?

Because of two factors: First, people are watching 3D films. The box office totals of recent hits like "Up," "Monsters vs. Aliens," and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," show that there is indeed interest in the format.

Philips 3D TV
The Philips 21:9 3D-capable TV on display at IFA in Berlin. Erica Ogg/CNET

But most of all, the companies that make consumer electronics see it as something else to sell that will distinguish their brand from the rest of the pack and from what they currently have at home. Blu-ray prices are coming down and the format is now solidly successful. And HDTVs, which became a must-have item, are becoming a commodity as well. Manufacturers are always on the lookout for some new twist that will compel users to upgrade, and for now, that appears to be 3D in the home.

Some trepidations
And while there is a race to be first to have a hit product for 3D at home, not everyone is onboard. Both Philips and Toshiba say they have tested the waters of 3D at home, but say it doesn't feel very inviting just yet.

In their massive booth here at IFA, Philips is showing prototypes of their 21:9 ultrawidescreen TV and a Blu-ray player, both of which are 3D-capable. Yet, interestingly, they have "no immediate plans to launch any commercial 3D TV products in the short term," the company said during their press conference Thursday. The technology, they are freely admitting, "isn't quite there."

Toshiba executives are voicing the same concern. "3D is quite interesting, and we're considering it," said Sascha Lange, head of marketing for visual products at Toshiba. "But currently we can't make any clear announcement about timing."

While that could be interpreted as Philips and Toshiba being overly conservative, that's likely not the case. The thing is, for all of Sony and Panasonic's attempts to convince people that they do want to watch everything on their home TVs in more than two dimensions, they don't have actual products yet. And the reason--something that Philips said outright here at the show, and something Sony mentioned but tried to gloss over--is the lack of an accepted standard for 3D video.

Philips, which like most of them, is an active member of the Blu-ray standards association working on 3D, said the reason it's not doing 3D at home yet is because a standard has yet to be agreed upon.

Sony acknowledged that, too. On Wednesday here Stringer said, "3D is clearly on its way to the mass market, but there are a variety of issues yet to be addressed." He didn't elaborate, but it's pretty clear he was referring to this standards problem.

Besides there not being a standard for 3D video yet, there's not even a standard technology for distributing 3D films in theaters. That's the reason why, depending upon which theater you go to, you'll be issued one of three different kinds of 3D glasses.

That lack of agreement has extended into the living room, and it helps to explain that some of the more successful 3D films ("U2: 3D," for example) have yet to make it to disc. The quality just isn't the same and trying to recreate the same effect people remember from theaters on a variety of different Blu-ray players and TVs is nearly impossible now. Dolby is even creating a business based on the lack of standard.

It's not to say the standards issue won't get ironed out, or that movie watchers won't ever want to watch 3D films at home, but that appears to still be a ways off.