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article imageOp-Ed: The hottest tech of the year: Part 1 Special

By Jack Kapica     Dec 4, 2010 in Technology
Televisions: This was supposed to be the year of 3D TV. It turns out that everyone was wrong -- now that the new 3D TVs are here, who wants them?
If you had asked me 11 months ago what I thought would be the hot technology for 2010, I wouldn’t have hesitated: 3D TV. I would have argued it would be the next home-viewing revolution since the introduction of high definition. I expected to be shown the new 3D televisions in a series of gushing product launches over the summer and into the fall, including TVs from Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Toshiba, Sharp and others.
Well, I was — but only sort of. While every manufacturer I saw had 3D TVs, some of them very good ones, few of the manufacturers stressed this feature in their pitches. Of far greater importance to the manufacturers was screen thinness, networking simplicity, ambient-light sensing, and design —one has a stand which, through a clever optical illusion, makes the screen appear to float above its stand.
I asked about the unexpected emphasis and got a universal answer: 3D televisions are simply not selling.
Not selling? Considering the hype Hollywood uses to push 3D movies, you’d think the hysteria would easily spill over into the home theatre too. I asked and was told several things. First, there is precious little on TV that is being broadcast in 3D, aside from a few sporting events — ESPN, the U.S. sports network, led the charge in late 2009, when it broadcast the USC vs. Ohio State college football game, then followed with the Masters golf tournament in April, a Harlem Globetrotters game in February, and 25 games of the FIFA World Cup in June and July in 3D.
But instead of heralding a new era of home viewing, efforts such as ESPN’s 3D experiments quickly turned into a damp squib.
Panasonic, which, as its advertising suggests, is “slightly ahead of our time,” was the first out of the gate in March, when 3D frenzy was at its peak, and it rang the 3D bell loudly. The company presented a suite of products including an HD 3D plasma TV set, a new 3D Blu-ray disc player and the a professional, dual lens, Full HD 3D camcorder designed to shoot movies, sports and music videos. In a statement, the company said that 3D “has the potential to change the way Canadians work, play and live. … Panasonic is finding more ways to bring Hollywood to the home … with expansions of our 3D offerings designed to give consumers more options and greater access to the immersive world of 3D entertainment from the comfort of home.”
I saw their products, and was duly impressed. The 3D plasma screen was brilliant and the 3D effect was impressive — under controlled circumstances and carefully shot film, of course, but allowances must be made for the early efforts of any new technology.
Shortly thereafter, the other TV manufacturers launched their lineups, but appeared to hold back on the 3D accelerator, using sales pitches that were much more tempered than Panasonic’s.
Something must have happened shortly after March, perhaps a dawning realization that the market isn’t being swayed by the 3D hoopla; buyers simply want to wait until their favourite shows became available in 3D. But there is another problem: the technology requires watching 3D with a special kind of uncomfortable dark glasses that throws the entire viewing room into darkness, and you can’t see anything but the TV screen, much less that cute significant other cuddling up next to you. Worse, the glasses are so loaded with technology that they cost between $200 and $250 a pair, and most of the 3D-capable TV sets do not come bundled with them. Sit on a pair accidentally and you’ll find yourself shelling out a lot of money to replace them (oh, and the glasses are not interchangeable with other brands of TV).
Samsung 3D glasses throw the entire viewing room into darkness  and you can’t see anything but the...
Samsung 3D glasses throw the entire viewing room into darkness, and you can’t see anything but the TV screen, much less that cute significant other sitting next to you.
Samsung
The fact that manufacturers are readying a 3D technology that doesn’t require wearing sunglasses, but it’s not yet ready for the market, is perhaps the most significant barrier holding buyers back: Why spend thousands on a 3D screen that requires special glasses when all the pundits are predicting that there is a whole new technology not needing the glasses just around the corner?
I can toss in two personal reasons why 3D TV is not on my horizon, reasons I suspect I share with others, though have not read much about them. First, my current 2D HD TV, for which I shelled out a good sum of money not too long ago, is still wonderful, thank you very much. Also, for me, 3D TV doesn’t have the same visual impact (call it the “wow factor”) that high-definition TV offers; in fact, when I recall all the 3D theatrical-release movies I’ve seen over the past few years, what stays in my memory is the story, the acting, perhaps the special effects and certainly the emotional impact. Watching them in 3D is a minor thrill, a throw-away gimmick that I know, deep down, could never be used save a bad film. Besides, I’m already beginning to forget which films I saw in 3D and which not.
I’m don’t know how many people have thought about it this much, though these limitations are buried somewhere deep in the emotional core, on a reptilian level. I’m left guessing that 3D will fade for a while and come back only when the kind of shows a mass audience wants to watch will be broadcast in 3D. Things like Mad Men, The Simpsons or (gulp!) Dancing with the Stars — though I can’t see any of those shows still in production by the time 3D becomes a regular feature.
Fujifilm’s Finepix 3D Camera was being bundled with TV sets  the idea being that you can take your...
Fujifilm’s Finepix 3D Camera was being bundled with TV sets, the idea being that you can take your own 3D still pictures and show them on your TV.
Fujifilm
With interest lagging, LG tried to goose along Canadian sales of its 3D TVs by giving away two pairs of 3D glasses (a $500 value) with the purchase of an LG 3D TV, and even a free FujiFilm Finepix Real 3D W3 camera (a further $500 value). The idea is that you can take your own 3D still pictures and show them on your TV.
Even with free 3D glasses and camera, LG still promoted other features over 3D in its new TV lineup. It was almost breathless about the wireless networking ability stuffed into its three main models (priced between $2,100 and $4,500), such as the LG55LD520. Using a standard developed by the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), LG felt that the most important aspect of its new lineup was that your home theatre would not be as cluttered with wires as before. Behind that pitch, however, is a larger and more tantalizing truth: With the recent arrival of Internet TV, or IPTV (Bell Fibe, Netflix), televisions will have to go online to be able to show the growing number of video streams available.
In fairness, almost all the new TV sets being made these days include built-in networking. It is this feature that should overwhelm the golly-gee 3D technology over which too few people are saying, “Golly gee.”
Still, the new LG sets retail for prices that can deflate Christmas cheer, ranging from a 42-inch model for $2,100 to $4,500 for a 55-inch model. Prices like these — they’re quite in line with most of the new TV sets — depend on what the TV manufacturers are doing rather than the ability of people to buy these units in a shaky economy. In short, the technology is here, but the money isn’t yet.
Sharp with its Aquos Quattron
Sharp with its Aquos Quattron
Sharp Electronics
Samsung and Sharp Electronics are next in promoting 3D technology. Sharp introduced the new Aquos Quattron LE 925 Series and 3D system a few months after all the other manufacturers did. Excusing its tardiness, Sharp said it had waited “until it had perfected its colour technology with Quattron Quad Pixel technology” before it would introduce a 3D system “truly ready for prime time.” You may have seen the TV ads featuring George Takei’s mellifluent baritone assuring us that the technology, which adds yellow to the red, green and blue colour system, results in the brightest 3D image on the market. Whatever its stated strategy, Sharp obviously thought its four-colour technology was a better selling point than 3D.
Samsung launched its TV lineup at a lavish party for dealers this summer, but made no mention of 3D during the presentation, preferring to emphasize how Samsung has kept up with the times, history and pop culture. Behind curtains at the party, three sets were playing, one showing a 3D game, another a 3D movie and a third that was showing a kind of faked 3D, in which a microchip in the TV processed the picture in real time and offered a simulacrum of 3D out of 2D images. I had the feeling that in a better economic climate, that real-time 3D processing chip would be trumpeted from here to eternity. But to Samsung, the greater importance was the Samsung 9000 series’ TV panel, which measures 7.98 mm in thickness, the slimmest monitor the company has ever created.
Even with free 3D glasses and camera  LG still promoted other features over 3D. It was almost breath...
Even with free 3D glasses and camera, LG still promoted other features over 3D. It was almost breathless about the wireless networking ability stuffed into its three main models, such as the LG55LD520.
Samsung
Only a few months earlier, in January, Samsung had announced its 2010 TV lineup boasting that its products are all “compatible with multiple 3D standards including half and full HD resolution formats, as well as the Blu-ray Disc Association ratified Blu-ray 3D standard. Way down on its announcement, it noted that “a new portfolio of ultra-slim Plasma HDTVs arrives with the 8000, 7000 and 6500 series. Each provides technologies to deliver superior picture quality, advanced connectivity with the updated Internet@TV - Content Service and compliance with the revised EnergyStar 4.0 guidelines – all in a slim form factor that is just over an inch thick.”
By summer, that whole marketing strategy had been reversed. Samsung was now selling really slim TV sets with good quality pictures and advanced connectivity. And oh, by the way, they can show 3D too.
Toshiba also limits its 3D pitch to fans of action and cartoon movies and gamers, with its new WX800 series television, BDX3000 Blu-ray player and its 3D gaming laptop — a wise move because gamers and fans of car-chase scenes make up a large part of the market most likely to adopt the 3D technology. Toshiba also likes to stress its TV networking features, as in the UX600 model, which has a Microsoft-certified DLNA networking system that includes Wi-Fi and NetTV capabilities. Toshiba also stressed its media control software system that simplifies home networking with a drag-and-drop interface that allows users to stream videos, music and pictures wirelessly to other devices.
Toshiba showcases its 3D television that requires no special glasses: The buzz offers the tantalizin...
Toshiba showcases its 3D television that requires no special glasses: The buzz offers the tantalizing promise of the 3D experience that can be viewed from numerous angles and will support all existing 3D content.
What Toshiba did not show, but is preparing, is a 3D TV that eliminates those awful glasses, and might even ship it before Christmas. Its early buzz offers the tantalizing promise of the 3D experience that can be viewed from numerous angles and will support all existing 3D content. Very exciting, of course, but I doubt its price tag would chew up all your others Christmas expenses, if not more so. If, however, it comes out with a low price tag, you can be sure the bottom will fall out of sales of the other 3D sets.
Looking back on 2010, we’re left with the feeling that the real advance in TV this year is the almost routine inclusion of Wi-Fi networking in TV sets, and that the technology complies with the DLNA standard, which will make it even easier for families to network all their digital gadgetry. The full 3D experience is better left for later.
Part 2 of the Hottest Tech of the Year: Smartphones and Tablets.
Part 3 of the Hottest Tech of the Year: Cameras.
Part 4 of the Hottest Tech of the Year: Printers.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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