The Real Problem with 3DTV: There's Nothing to Watch... YetS

Panasonic and Samsung have launched the first models in an onslaught of 3DTV. But the big problem isn't their quality, silly glasses or price—it's that, even if you wanted to attain 3D media, you can't.

Remember when HDTV came out and there was barely anything to watch in HD? Or maybe you bought a Laserdisc player and, with few places to rent from, were stuck watching the same three movies over and over.

In its infancy, 3DTV is far, far worse. The reviews you are reading regarding 3DTVs—including our own—are based largely upon a single demo reel of 3D content. No, not even a whole movie. Just clips.

You see, those 3D DVDs and Blu-rays on the market now? They aren't designed for the new crop of 3DTVs that use active shutter glasses. And watching any of these older films on any TV, new or old, will have the same crummy 3D effect. The new better 3D format comes only when the new Blu-ray releases, broadcast TV and gaming consoles get here. And for that there's a bit of a wait.

Blu-ray

Avatar! There we go! If there's one "killer app" for 3DTV, it's got to be Cameron's multi-billion-dollar 3D blockbuster. But the first release wasn't in 3D. Its second release, due in November, won't be 3D, either!

So when will Avatar arrive to 3D Blu-ray? 2011.

Here's what is coming:
Monsters Vs Aliens—out now, but only with Samsung 3D glasses packages
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs—June
• Additional unannounced disc titles that will probably get 3D Blu-ray treatment this year: Alice In Wonderland, How To Train Your Dragon, Clash of the Titans

Broadcast

OK, so broadcast! Good old broadcast! How's that shaping up? 3D broadcast, for both cable and satellite, appears to be well on its way (keep in mind, of course, we expect most of these stations to cost extra a la HD channels). But still, even these options aren't ready yet:

• Comcast's Dedicated 3D Channel—live in April for The Masters, now it's dead air
• DirectTV Dedicated 3D Channel—June 2010
• Verizon FiOS 3DTV (package of unannounced channels)—Holiday 2010
(content by CBS, Fox Sports/FSN, HDNet, MTV, NBC, TBS)
• ESPN (ESPN3D)—June 11
• Discovery 3D—TBA 2011

Gaming

OK, so games! How are those doing? Know if you want your 3D fix, you can use a computer. Combining 3D-ready LCDs, like those by Dell, with NVIDIA shutter glasses, the experience can be pretty decent. And if you have a home-theater PC with NVIDIA's new 3DTV Play, you can connect to a real 3DTV via HDMI. But buying a PC for the living room isn't the same as making use of the gaming hardware already in there—most of us are thinking about consoles.

The Wii—let's face it, has no extra horsepower to drive 3D, and its SD connections aren't capable of driving 3DHD content. Instead, Nintendo seems focused on their next generation DS for 3D gaming.

Microsoft has no qualms with sharing that the 360 is "3D capable"—they've said so for a long time. But as of this moment, they have no specific (announced) plans regarding 3D. And with Natal on the horizon, a sudden push for shutter glasses 3D seems unlikely.

Sony's PS3, on the other hand, is positioning itself as a 3D console/Blu-ray player to complement new Bravia TVs. But once again, these promises come with a wait. Here are the facts thus far:

• Sony will be releasing a 3D PS3 firmware update this summer
• With that update, you'll be able to play Wipeout HD, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift, and PAIN
Avatar: The Game is a special case, actually playable in 3D now
• The 3D-savvy Gran Turismo 5 is out November 1
• Any future titles in development that have not pre-planned for 3D (that later choose to be in 3D) will take a sizable performance hit

Even if you can buy a 3DTV now—even if you really want a 3DTV now—you won't be able to watch much of anything on it until June. And even then, the choices will be slim. So make no mistake, when you walk into Best Buy or wherever and see the promises of watching 3D in your living room, those are just promises. And given that baseline 3DTVs cost nearly 3x their 2D counterparts ($2500 barrier to entry vs $800-$900), these promises are costing you a lot.

With reporting by Don Nguyen