To take advantage of the new breed of 3D HDTVs hitting stores this year, customers will have to make sure they possess a checklist of items. A 3D-ready TV? Check. Battery-powered shutter glasses? Check. Actual 3D content to watch on the new set? Uh, well, for most people I’ve spoken to, this is where it gets confusing. But it doesn’t ’t need to be – there are several different ways of bringing the third dimension to a 3D HDTV.
The best-quality 3D will come from the new 3D Blu-ray format that is being launched this year. For A-list theatrical digital 3D movies – films such as Avatar, Coraline and Monsters vs Aliens – these discs are the way to go. The tricky part here is figuring out if your Blu-ray player can play these 3D discs. As of press time, only a handful of existing Blu-ray players (including the PlayStation 3) can handle 3D, and most of them will require a firmware upgrade that is coming later this year. Don’t have one of these players? You’ll need to buy a new one to play 3D movies.
There’s also a handful of new 3D cable and satellite stations in the works. In the US, DirecTV has announced plans to launch one for its subscribers some time in the coming year, and Discovery Channel is teaming up with Sony and Imax for another. But the most important offering could be the one coming from ESPN, which has announced its intention to broadcast the 2010 World Cup live in 3D (although it’s still unclear which cable and satellite providers will actually carry these broadcasts).
Hi-def sports broadcasts played no small part in the widespread adoption of HDTV, and the sports world could very well have a similar tipping-point effect on the spread of at-home 3D. This presents at least one potential problem – social gatherings for games might be hampered by the need for a large number of 3D glasses. And because universal standards on these glasses are still a work in progress, bringing your own set to a friend’s house could be an exercise in futility.
One drawback to these live 3D broadcasts is that, unlike 3D Blu-rays, they aren’t likely to be high-definition – at least, not at first. That’s because 3D stations require an enormous amount of bandwidth from the cable companies, and adding hi-def to the mix would just make the problem worse – particularly since these stations aren’t likely to have very many viewers at first.
The third way of watching 3D TV: a few new HDTVs from companies such as Toshiba and Samsung will have the ability to transform 2D content into 3D live as it plays. However, because creating effective 3D shots is a skill that can’t quite be automated (at least, not yet), I expect this method to be less impressive than watching made-in-3D movies.
The fourth (and, for now, final) method of watching 3D is through a PC connected to your 3D HDTV. Computer software from companies such as DDD currently allows users to transform 2D DVDs into 3D, but these rarely look good. Some 3D video games, however, look spectacular, so we wouldn’t be surprised if this avenue turns out to be of greatest interest to gamers.