Ahhh the third dimension, it just won't go away will it? After peaking in popularity in two previous decades, 3-D is back with a vengeance and shows no signs of stopping. Whether you love it, hate it, or fall somewhere in between, the runaway success of James Cameron's 'Dances with Wolves' remake has pretty much guaranteed that the major studios will continue to suckle at the 3-D teat for the next several summers. And while we probably should have seen the writing on the wall, the surge in theatrical 3-D presentations has finally lead to the inevitable next step ... 3-D right in your living room.
The question is, should you jump in to this new technology with both feet or wait cautiously by the side of the pool and see how it all plays out?
Let's start with an overview of the new 3-D technology. 3-D in the theater uses polarized 3-D which requires the use of simple 3-D glasses. Frames are projected on screen through a polarizing filter and the two lenses in the glasses have different polarizations which filter the appropriate frame to each eye creating a 3-D effect. 3DTV currently uses active shutter technology. This alternates frames at twice the speed of normal 2D content and the viewer must wear active shutter glasses which are synced to the TV and block each eye in rapid succession. This happens quickly enough that your brain interprets the two frames as one. Keep in mind that since theaters use a different type of 3-D than the current crop of 3DTV's, you won't be able to use those cheap plastic glasses you picked up when you saw 'Avatar.' You will need to purchase active shutter glasses that work with your specific TV model.
3DTV certainly looks cool, but there are several things to consider. First off, you'll need a pair of 3-D glasses for every member of your audience. The active shutter glasses are typically pricey, running around $150-$250 per pair. Also, the glasses are often proprietary, meaning your glasses for your Samsung 3DTV probably won't work with your friend's Panasonic 3DTV. Next up is available content. To be able to see anything in 3-D, you'll need either a 3-D Blu-ray player, a 3-D capable gaming console or a 3-D set top box for satellite or cable service. Then you'll need a 3-D Blu-ray, 3-D game or 3-D channel to watch.
The fact of the matter is, there just isn't a lot of content available right now, though that could be on the upswing. ESPN shot out of the gate quickly establishing a full ESPN3D channel to provide sports programming for early adopters. 3-D Blu-ray started slow, but titles like 'A Christmas Carol' and 'My Bloody Valentine' recently hit the format with plenty more on the way. 3-D gaming is also on the rise, with titles like 'Gran Turismo 5' and 'Call of Duty: Black Ops.' If you have a Playstation 3, you're in luck, as Sony has already released a firmware update allowing the console to play back 3-D Blu-rays as well as 3-D video games.
The two biggest things on most consumers mind will be price and 'Avatar.' Cameron's big-budget epic has become almost synonymous with 3-D technology, and lots of people are clamoring to see it in 3-D in their living room. Unfortunately, Fox struck a deal with Panasonic providing the only copies of the 'Avatar' 3-D Blu-ray to Panasonic 3DTV purchasers. While the disc itself will play in any 3-D Blu-ray player connected to any 3DTV, only customers who purchase a Panasonic 3DTV will be able to receive the disc. Samsung has a similar exclusivity deal for the 3-D Blu-ray of 'Monsters vs. Aliens.' You can read more about that situation here.
As for price, it's not as bad as you might think. Samsung and Panasonic are probably the biggest players in the 3DTV market, although LG, Sony and even Misubishi also offer 3-D sets. They may initially look more expensive, but 3DTV's are typically using plasma and LED display technology which is inherently more expensive than LCD. On a direct comparison between displays of similar sizes and types within the same brand, 3-D appears to be costing $200-$500 more than their 2D HDTV counterparts.
So is it worth? The bottom line is probably not. At least not right now. The high price coupled with the small amount of available content makes it a risky venture at best. That said, if you're in the market for a new TV anyway, you might want to think about investing a little more in a 3-D set just in case it ends up taking off. Your investment will be pretty minimal, especially if you already have a Playstation 3 and can jump into 3-D content right away. Be aware that sets marked 3-D ready will require the purchase of an additional component to display 3-D content.
Look around on Black Friday and on Cyber Monday, particularly at Best Buy and Amazon. You can probably find a pretty good deal on a new 3DTV. On the other hand, if you're not already looking to upgrade, it's probably best to wait this one out and see what happens. If 3-D does take off, it's possible that a more unified standard could emerge. If it doesn't, then you haven't wasted a bunch of money just to see a handful of things in 3-D at home.