THIS WEEK has been a big week for 3D TV announcements. On Tuesday, we attended a Samsung press event and were given a demo of its full HD 3D TV and, despite some caveats we'll address, were suitability impressed. And yesterday, Sony unveiled its aggressive 3D TV business strategy to the Wall Street Journal. Then, late Wednesday afternoon, LG entered the 3D TV fray with what it claims is a complete package for the UK with a May launch date.
While Sony is playing 3D catch-up with Samsung, LG and Panasonic, it intends to increase its TV shipments by 70 per cent and deliver more than 25 million 3D TVs in the next fiscal year. With Samsung already selling 3D TVs in South Korea since last month and Panasonic due to launch next week in the US, are we 3D ready yet?
As answers always are to questions like this, yes and no. There's no doubt that some of the new technology is visually very good. Samsung is bringing the first 3D TV LED technology to the European market with an array of products. It's offering 3D LED TVs, 3D LCD TVs and 3D Plasma TVs, a Blu-ray Player and a Home Theatre System. Samsung also announced a content partnership in late February with Dreamworks SKG to 3D-ify the studio's CGI-based films like Shrek, Monster and Aliens. According to the WSJ, Tim Baxter, Samsung's US president, said orders for its 3D TVs on Amazon were strong and he believes the 3D industry will sell between 3.5 million and 4 million 3D TV units in the US this year.
Hot off the press, LG has also launched 3D TV models, a 3D Blu-ray player and 3D compatibility with the Sky network. It's introducing the first passive 3D technology LCD TV with its LD920. This will be rolled out in pubs for football fans and the World Cup will be broadcast by Sky in 3D. LG is also launching the LX9900, its full LED 3D ready TV along with a 3D Blu-ray player to boot.
Sony may be behind the rest of the big display manufacturers but it has a trick up its sleeve that none of its competition can claim. It will be one of the first, if not the only manufacturer to deliver an entire 3D gaming hardware and software service through its PlayStation gaming consoles. 3D gaming is set to be massive and Sony can publish and develop 3D games that can be played on Playstation 3s with a firmware upgrade. Sony's 3D games can be downloaded from its Playstation Network and viewed on its 3D TV's.
The 3D playback on Samsung's demo-reel was accomplished. It offered unexpectedly wide viewing angles so you're not rooted to an optimised spot to get the 3D effect and pin-sharp image quality. Samsung achieves this with its own active shutter powered 3D glasses. The company's LED and LCD 3D TVs refresh at 240Hz so the glasses refresh at half the rate to synchronise the content. The right and left eye shutters alternately open and close, there by producing the 3D effect.
Now here's the rub. While this is great pioneering technology, Samsung will only bundle one pair of its 3D glasses when its 3D TVs go on sale because they cost around £100. If you're a cash rich early adopter, then lucky you and it won't be an issue. However, no matter how much money you're willing to spend on extra Samsung 3D glasses, you won't get them working with 3D technology from other manufacturers.
Like Samsung, LG's 3D TV portfolio is using active shutter glasses to generate the 3D effect and full HD playback. We asked LG if the glasses are only operable on its own 3D TV technology but haven't had an answer yet. We're guessing that it's probably only compatible with LG gear.
The problem all manufacturers and punters face is that there's no agnostic open standard support in 3D TV home technology. Particular manufacturers are using particular 3D technologies with particular content providers. This means we get a fractured ecosystem that ties end users to one delivery system when there are many on offer. It's early, pioneering days and we can't wait to get a 3D TV but we're going to sit this one out. For a few years