We just returned from the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. 3D home theater technology was well-represented by most of the major HDTV manufacturers and was one of the major attractions for the show. Good quality 3D movies and technology for home viewing will soon be a reality, but there is both good news and bad news to report.
The good news is that Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, Toshiba and LG will all introduce 3D home theater systems or components during 2010. The bad news is that the new technology is not compatible with existing HDTVs and you will have to buy a new television in addition to a new Blu-ray player in order to enjoy 3D movies. That is very disappointing news for anyone who recently invested in large screen TV, and is not in a position to invest in a new HDTV.
With the exception of Sony, all the 3D systems displayed at CES used active shutter technology, which requires special glasses that synchronize with alternating left-eye, right-eye images displayed on the screen to produce the illusion of 3D. The Sony system uses polarized lens glasses from RealD, which are the same or similar to the glasses currently used for 3D movies in movie theaters. While movie theaters use a circular polarized projector to display 3D movies, Sony’s approach is believed to use a multi-layer LCD display, with each layer visible to one lens in the polarized glasses. We found the quality with both approaches to far exceed that of the anaglyph 3D technology currently used with many 3D home movies.
Most manufacturers were using the new Avatar movie as one of their 3D demos. I found the depth and quality of the videos in the CES demos to be superior to the rather flat 3D effects I saw with Avatar in the movie theater. As a avid fan of 3D movies, I thoroughly enjoyed the Avatar movie, but was disappointed with the quality of the 3D effects in the theater.
The manufacturer to watch is Panasonic. While other manufacturers would only commit to product introductions “some time in 2010”, Panasonic announced the release of their new DMP-BDT350 Blu-ray 3D player and several new 3D V Series HDTVs ranging in size from 50 to 65 inches in spring of 2010. Panasonic is also introducing a new 3D video camera to promote the use of 3D video and is partnering with DirectTV to introduce a 3D channel in spring.
Panasonic demonstrated all of the new components in a theater set up at the show. They demonstrated its use for movies, sports, concerts and a range of applications. The only drawback I saw with sports is that there is very little depth of field at a distance, but the benefits could clearly be seen for sports filmed closer to the action and when athletes were moving toward the camera.
Sony is introducing the BDP-S770 player, along with several new 3D Bravia HDTVs with display sizes from 40 to 60 inches. Samsung wants to sell you a 3D system, which they called the 3D Home EcoSystem. The Samsung rep said that about one-third of their new 2010 HDTVs will support 3D. LG displayed several new 3D-ready HDTVs that they said would be released during 2010. Sharp displayed an HDTV with an integrated Blu-ray player, but would not offer any information about the product or commit to a release date.
From what I was told, the new technology requires the use of the new HDMI 1.4 standard for cables and components in order to achieve full 1080p 3D images. This may present a problem for anyone with a home theater system that uses the HDMI 1.3 or older technologies. Panasonic is the only manufacturer that addresses this with their DMP-BDT350 Blu-ray player by providing both HDMI 1.3 and 1.4 ports for compatibility with older receivers and system components. I suspect that by the time some of the other Blu-ray players hit they market, they will also feature multiple HDMI ports for compatibility. This appears to very a very good feature, because you can run the HDMI 1.4 cable to a new 3D HDTV, while routing the audio through an existing HDMI 1.3 of older receiver.
The recent Blu-ray Disc Association’s announcement regarding a Blu-ray standard for 3D movies paved the way for this new technology. But based upon what we saw at 2010 CES, 3D technology for home theaters will be a small niche market for some time. Most home theater fans will not invest in a completely new system just to enjoy an occasional 3D movie–at least not until the new movies are widely available and component costs come down to reasonable prices. That could take several years. Plus, only three or four movies are scheduled to be released with the new format during 2010–and the blockbuster Avatar is not on the list. It will take several very good movies utilizing the mew 3D technology to stimulate sales.
All-in-all, I think the manufacturers missed the boat by not designing a 3D system that is at least compatible with current higher-end HDTVs with a 120Hz or faster refresh rate. They claim that there is a 3D processor chip in the television, requiring you to buy a new 3D ready HDTV. While it is probably required in order to deal with the new technology, it sounds suspiciously like they just want you to buy all new components. Once these products hit the market, we will know a lot more about compatibility and what they can and cannot do.