How close is 3D to a TV near you, really?

If this is CES, there must be 3D. Lots and lots of 3D. 3D televisions. 3D movies. 3D sporting events. Leave the exhibit hall and you expect the paintings on the wall to leap out at you. Never mind going to the bathroom.

And this year, they swear, will be the year you can have that thrilling experience at home, too.

Noting that 4 out of 10 of last year's top 10-grossing movies were shown in theaters in 3D, Samsung, DreamWorks, and Technicolor announced a global strategic alliance for the delivery of "a complete 3D home entertainment solution" this year -- including a line of 3D-capable HDTVs from Samsung and its new 3D Blu-ray disc player, anchored by the release of Dreamworks' Monsters vs. Aliens. Although Samsung didn't mention it, Intel is presumably involved, having announced its initial agreement with Dreamworks a year and a half ago to produce Monsters vs. Aliens in the first place. The sets will even be able to convert 2D programming to 3D.

In fact, Tim Baxter, president of Samsung Electronics Co.'s consumer division, told the Toronto Star, 10 to 14% of the roughly 35 million TVs sold in the US this year will be 3D-capable. That would be more than 3 million.

LG Electronics, Sony, and Panasonic also announced 3D televisions at the show. In addition, Sony announced its first 3D Blu-ray title, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, which will be released about the same time.

In addition, Disney -- which claims it has produced more 3D content than any other major studio, said it will begin rolling out 3D Blu-ray titles this year, beginning with Disney's A Christmas Carol, and followed by Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3.

What helps is that the Blu-ray Disc Association introduced its long-awaited 3D specification in December, on the eve of the premiere of James Cameron's Avatar -- which blew away (or should we say, "blue away") the competition for Christmas movies. With luck, this will help prevent the great Blu-ray/HD DVD wars that held up the adoption of high-definition television.

"For the last two years, we've watched 3D movies, played 3D games, and watched 3D sports at CES," said Forrester analyst James McQuivey in his blog. "The difference in 2010 is that we're looking at commercially ready products. Between the major TV makers, there are at least 20 TVs on display here that we are promised will actually be sold around the world sometime this year. That is genuine progress."

However, McQuivey disputes the 3 million figure, saying that just because millions of people watched Avatar in 3D doesn't mean they're all going to run right out and buy a $2000 3D TV set. Rapid adoption of 3D TV in the home, he said, has three main roadblocks:

  1. Everybody just bought a new TV to support high-definition television, not to mention upgrading to a Blu-ray player -- which itself would have to be replaced to play 3D in 3D (3D disks will play in 2D).
  2. The 3D experience is only good for a handful of viewing experiences, ones that you pay really close attention to, such as games, movies, and sporting events such as the Fiesta Bowl, because you have to sit directly in front of the set -- with the *#^$^% glasses. It's not for having Oprah on while you're doing the ironing.
  3. It also requires a big investment by the industry, so not all content is likely to be 3D right away in any event.

McQuivey's prediction: "If it took 10 years for HD to go from 1 home to reach more than half the US population, it will take 3D just as long."

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