Marketing types are often guilty of pushing the truth too far – but on other, much rarer occasions, the hype machine still somehow fails to do justice to the magnitude of certain events. This year’s launch of 3D TV is a case in point.
Thing is, while it’s clearly being hyped to the skies by all and sundry, 3D TV really does merit all the attention it’s getting, and much more. That’s because in essence, telly has been pretty much the same for almost 85 years. Sure, sets have gained colour, higher resolution and size over the years, plus widescreen aspect ratios and, recently, flat-panel display technology. But despite all that evolution, almost all modern TVs are still, at heart, direct descendants of John Logie Baird’s 1926 test transmissions.
Not so a 3D TV. Until you’ve tried it for yourself, it’s hard to convey just how different the experience is to normal TV viewing. It’s compulsive, immersive, and the essence of the ‘appointment to view’ notion so cherished by today’s TV broadcasters, each of whom has to fight with YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and countless other digital distractions to get your attention.
However, 3D isn’t a new premise, and as we all know, older 3D systems never quite took off. What makes 2010 any different? It’s simply that this time around, both the technology itself and its associated buying proposition have been thoroughly sorted, so much so that in truth, any comparisons between older anaglyph-based forms of 3D and the current state of the stereoscopic art are as relevant as debating the relative merits of the Wright Flyer and a modern airliner. Sure, they’re both aircraft, but otherwise – well, you get the picture.
Modern-day 3D is capturing the public’s imagination because unlike its ancient, low-technology sibling it delivers viewer comfort, colour accuracy, proper edge definition and a fundamentally enjoyable user experience: in short, it’s not rubbish. It’s also nowhere near as complex or expensive to implement as many of us might have expected: simpler polarised 3D is being made available as a free upgrade to Sky+HD owners, while Sony PS3 buyers can upgrade their consoles to active-shutter 3D spec using a free download over the internet. Even the new generation of 3D-capable Blu-ray players cost only a modest amount more than their standard siblings: Sony wants around £170 for its 2D BDP-S370, and only £230 for the essentially similar – and 3D-capable – BDPS570. To judge from the first wave of 3D Blu-ray disc releases, the same appears true of software: typically, the 3D version costs you only a little more than the standard disc.
Of course, you’re going to have to pay for your 3D privilege somewhere, and yes, the fact you’ll need a new, comparatively expensive 3D TV is sure to hold back 3D take-up for a while. British consumers are a savvy lot, and not just because of the recession. They’ve become accustomed to waiting and watching for prices to fall – witness the slow initial sales of Blu-ray (and a decade before it, DVD) until prices hit ‘acceptable’ levels.
But ultimately that won’t hold 3D back. Prices will fall – we all know that – and at the same time the trickle of 3D-enabled products being released this year will give way to a deluge of choice by 2011. You won’t necessarily be watching your soaps or reality shows in 3D anytime soon, but in the medium term, and especially for films, gaming and other ‘must-see’ experiences, 3D is likely to become a consumer must-have.