Playing the 3D Waiting Game
Finding content to view on your new 3D entertainment center is still a challenge, and will be for a while.
Credit: ESPN
September 27, 2010 by Arlen Schweiger

Unless you’re a serious soccer fan or your child really loves Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, you’re probably wondering what’s the point of all these 3D products for the home? It seems like a new 3D movie is hitting your local Cineplex every week, but your local cable provider still hasn’t added any 3D channels to the 700 you’re receiving.

The manufacturers seem to be taking a Field of Dreams “if you build it, they will come” approach to 3D home entertainment. The televisions, and even some projectors, are arriving swiftly with the requisite eyewear, as well as Blu-ray players and A/V receivers that support the format. Yet there are only a handful of viewing choices—not including the many PC games developed to be 3D-ready—available through traditional manners.

DirecTV Leading the Charge
“Everyone is talking about some form of 3D, and it’s all driven by the interest of consumers,” noted Panasonic CTO Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, on the eve of DirecTV’s July 1 launch of its n3D channel powered by Panasonic. “As I talk to networks and broadcasters, at least a dozen networks are very interested, in my personal opinion.”

The n3D debut coincided with two more DirecTV 3D offerings—DirecTV Cinema and DirecTV on Demand, both of which promised movie selections. But simply because the channels exist doesn’t mean there’s content to fill them. On the day of this article’s writing for the September print edition of Electronic House, DirecTV’s listings for n3D and Cinema showed “n3D Previews” and “IMAX: NASCAR 3D,” respectively—looped all day.

Tsuyuzaki predicted the rollout of 3D programming to work its way from satellite to more cable channels and finally to the major broadcast networks, with similar naming to that of high-definition alternates, like NBC 3D or TNT 3D. The n3D channel arrived a little less than a month after ESPN became the first to bestow 3D programming upon us, as its ESPN 3D channel launched in conjunction with the opening of the 2010 World Cup. And similar to the DirecTV/Panasonic partnership, Discovery announced earlier this year that it was teaming with IMAX and Sony to start a 3D network, but not until 2011.

“The new 3D network will feature high-quality premium content from genres that are most appealing in 3D, including natural history, space, exploration, adventure, engineering, science and technology, motion pictures and children’s programming from Discovery, Sony Pictures Entertainment, IMAX and other third-party providers,” the company said.

Mixed Reviews
That’s in line with the main categories that are earning the bulk of 3D focus for the home, especially sports and children’s programming. ESPN broadcasted the aforementioned World Cup, baseball’s All-Star Home Run Derby and the X Games in 3D during the summer, and its college football coverage in the format begins this month. During the summer, Verizon’s FiOS service aired a New York Yankees-Seattle Mariners game on the YES Network in 3D; n3D aired the MLB All-Star Game; and TNT delivered NASCAR (live, not the IMAX movie).

Reviews have been mixed, at best—from very good enhancement, like when the 3D telecast clearly topped 2D in showing a hard-to-see soccer goal, to poor, like noticeable artifacts appearing on the 3D version of the same soccer match.

The broadcasts also featured more 3D content that’s to be expected—commercials! ESPN produced one of its popular “This Is SportsCenter” spots for the format, and 3D gave Sony another reason to cast Peyton Manning and Justin Timberlake for more funny business.

Blu-ray Movies on Tap
Still, the content most are clamoring for are 3D Blu-rays of those blockbuster movies they saw in theaters. The first Blu-ray release of Avatar in April did not include a 3D version; neither did Alice in Wonderland.

In terms of native 3D releases (The Polar Express, for example, was released with included old-school red/blue glasses), Monsters vs. Aliens, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Coraline, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and IMAX’s Under the Sea and Grand Canyon Adventure were available at press time. And some were exclusive to manufacturers (like Monsters vs. Aliens with Samsung, for instance) as part of a 3D TV purchase bundle. The Shrek series, A Christmas Carol and Avatar are on tap for later this year, and Cloudy included sneak peeks at Open Season and Monster House (now out) on 3D Blu-ray.

The Road to Adoption
Many are comparing this early adoption period with the beginnings of HDTV—a few channels existed, including some satellite-only offerings, with names such as ESPN, Discovery and DirecTV again leading the way. But is the adoption of 3D really going to be like HDTV? You didn’t need 20/20 vision to notice the quantum leap from standard- to high-definition, on just about any program or movie.

As much as Hollywood studios, major networks and cable stations want to encourage 3D viewing, consumers and their deep pockets will be the ones who can answer whether or not 3D is as substantial an improvement. Do we need 3D to enjoy House or even House Hunters? Oh, and a decade removed since high-def has been available, my cable provider is still adding HD channels that have existed on other cable and satellite services for years. Hmmm.

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Arlen Schweiger - Contributor, Electronic House Magazine
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for and Electronic House magazine.

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