The world’s TV manufacturers have seen the future. This is the year, they say, that we go stereoscopic—marching forth into a world dominated by ungainly “3D glasses” and ghostly red-tinted images.
Four major electronics firms—Sony, LG, Panasonic and Samsung—have announced 3D TV launches in the last month. 3D Blu-ray players promise a small but growing library of movies (in both Blu-ray and DVD) in 3D.
At the moment, these are restricted to animated features such as Monsters vs Aliens and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, but they will soon include cinematic heavyweights such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Clash of the Titans and James Cameron’s Avatar. Sports channel ESPN will broadcast 25 matches of the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa in 3D.
What should consumers do? Indian broadcasters are barely on the threshold of switching to full High Definition (HD) content, and the promised land of 3D seems too distant. While a few networks, such as ESPN and Discovery Channel, have announced 24-hour, dedicated 3D broadcasts by 2011, no definite dates have been set for their arrival in India.
The scarcity in 3D content is stacked unevenly against the launch of the first batch of 3D TVs, with most movies and broadcasts, apart from the World Cup, arriving only by November or December.
Samsung’s range of 3D TVs has an internal processing engine that claims to convert any 2D content to 3D, from sports broadcasts to news reports. An early review of the device from the UK website Techradar (www.techradar.com) called the results “unpredictable”, but added that “we were just amazed that it worked at all”.
Making the call
The 3D TVs are competent 2D devices as well. “Consumers are paying a little more, about 20-25%, for 3D TVs, but these are top-of-the-line LED (light-emitting diode) TVs, and a lot of high-end features are generic to them,” says Ruchika Batra, a spokesperson for Samsung India. The technological underpinning of a 3D TV is complex, but they are effectively high-quality LED or LCD (liquid crystal display) TVs, with 3D functionality tacked on. LED TVs are lit by a stream of LEDs that give the screen a sharper, more even image than LCD TVs, which are lit by fluorescent cathode tubes. Samsung’s line of 3D TVs starts at Rs1.30 lakh for a 40-inch model (Samsung’s UN40C6500). In comparison, a regular 40-inch LCD TV, such as Sony’s Bravia KLV-40NX500, is priced at around Rs60,000.
The ability to watch 3D movies, the primary source of 3D content, will require a 3D Blu-ray player. All four 3D TV manufacturers have announced 3D-compatible Blu-ray players, with prices starting at around Rs30,000. Sony’s PlayStation 3 gaming console can double up as a 3D Blu-ray player after a firmware update due in the next two months, and will support stereoscopic 3D games as well. All four 3D TVs come with one pair of glasses, but additional ones will cost Rs4,500 each.
Apart from the spiralling cost of ownership, there is also uncertainty about the potential health risks that prolonged viewing of 3D content may bring. “There is a small percentage of the population who experience an adverse reaction to 3D,” says Nishant Goyal, head of sales in South Asia for Nvidia Corp., which manufactures a line of 3D glasses and processing units for computers. Goyal is referring both to what is called “stereo blindness”, or an inability to process stereoscopic images, and people who experience nausea and strain on viewing 3D images. “But we worked hard to make sure the glasses and on-screen image were perfectly in sync—any technology needs to stand up to the strain of long sessions.”
Samsung posted a health warning on its website about “headaches or fatigue”. “Viewing in 3D mode,” the warning says, “may also cause motion sickness, perceptual after-effects, disorientation, eye strain, and decreased postural stability.”
But the Samsung India spokesperson insists that the warning is merely covering basic precautions and guidelines, and is not an indication of uncertainties about the potential effects of 3D TVs on the eyes. “There have been questions about health, yes, but the feedback we’ve received from consumers has been very positive,” says Batra. “Our testing has shown no major issues or risks.”