R U 3D ‘Ready’ Already?

DirecTV last week launched its first three 3D channels, the first in what is likely to be a flood of new 3D broadcast sources. The question consumers are asking: how to watch these channels? Unfortunately, the 3D HDTV makers are hardly any help.

” -ready” –the scariest hyphenate in consumer electronics – is beginning to be indiscriminately slapped to the rear of “3DTV,” officially opening the 3DTV obfuscation season. Or, as Elmer Fudd would put it, it’s “3D-weady season,” which somehow sounds more appropriate.

The “-ready” suffix should be familiar. A decade ago, a burst of alleged HDTVs were confusingly labeled “HDTV-ready,” a suffix everyone agreed meant absolutely nothing, forcing the powers-that-be to precisely define “full” HDTV and ordered that HDTVs thus be labeled accurately.

As was the case with HDTV, the term “3D-ready” not only (and still) doesn’t mean anything, it further muddies what already is confusing folks about 3D. (At a Best Buy recently, I was fascinated by a guy staring approvingly at a Samsung 3D display showing Monsters v. Aliens – an he wasn’t wearing glasses.) It also makes it twice as hard for those of us who have to try and explain all this when we first are forced staunch the misinformation hemorrhage.

3D HDTV is almost simple. Right now, there is full HD 3D Blu-ray, which creates a 1080p frame for each eye, and half HD for each eye for broadcast, cable and satellite.  Full 3D HDTV can be achieved only with a 3D HDTV (not “ready” or “capable” or any other non-instructive descriptive suffix) equipped with HDMI 1.4a connectivity, connected to a 3D Blu-ray player with content encoded in MPEG-4 H.264 MVC (multiview video codec) and similarly equipped with HDMI 1.4. DirecTV sub’bers need nothing, nor will cable HDTVC sub’bers once cable providers start providing 3D channels. (Full 3D HDTV cable boxes are likely at least two years away.)

And, duh, to watch this full 3D HDTV, consumers will need to wear active shutter glasses.

But as with HDTV, manufacturers and retailers are taking a Looney Tunes approach to mis-explain their high-tech wares.

Take, for example, an email sent out to the media by a national retailer who shall remain nameless (okay, it was Sears) to announce the availability of two Samsung 3D LED LCDs and helpfully dispel three self-proclaimed 3D myths:

• Users are required to wear 3D glasses all the time.

Yes, Panasonsungshiba, spend millions of dollars on advertising and marketing to let people know they can take off their 3D glasses when they’re not watching 3D TV. Thanks, because I’m still wearing mine from when I watched Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” 3D video on the Grammys telecast last month.

• After watching 3D and taking off the glasses, regular TV content is going to be fuzzy.

Millions worldwide have collectively spent hundreds of billions to watch Avatar in 3D, and not a single one of these Na’vi nerds found the world fuzzy after removing their 3D glasses. Blue, maybe, but not fuzzy.

• 3D TVs are going to be too expensive for the average household.

This is not a “myth,” it’s fact. Most American homes don’t have a large screen HDTV for a good reason: even at $800, 42-plus inch HDTVs are too expensive for most, and 3D sets are going to be at the top end of the large screen pricing scale (the cheapest Samsung set on the Sears’ site, a 46-inch model, is $2,600). And considering the hardships the economy is causing, trying to convince Mr. and Mrs. America that 3D HDTVs actually represent a good buy is, quite frankly, just plain insulting, like pouring lemon juice into an economic machete wound.

Worse, Sears’ initial Samsung 3D HDTV product page, consumers’ first introduction to actual 3D HDTV sales spiel, mentions nothing about 3D glasses – not where to get them, not how much they cost, not that they have to be $100 active shutter glasses not cheap cardboard red-green glasses for anaglyph 3D or the Polarized sunglasses they snuck out with from the movie theater – not even that they’ll need glasses. Imagine the first automobile salesmen neglecting to mention buyers would need to buy something called “gasoline.”

Then there’s Sears’ “Making 3D Happen” FAQ page. First, there are headers for “Native 3D,” “Virtual 3D” and “2D.” “Native 3D”? “Virtual 3D”? I’ve been writing about 3D for more than a year, attending 3D demos and conducting intense Q&As with industry execs over the last few weeks, and I’ve never heard these terms. And I’ve not seen a single 2D-to-3D conversion that improved upon century-old stereoscopic postcard viewer. Knowing the difference between Native and Virtual 3D is not only not a FAQ, it’s a INOTATWEAI (It Never Occurred To Anyone This Was Even An Issue, pronounced “ino-TOT-way” if you’re curious).

And the first product descriptive term Sears’ FAQ uses? “3D-ready HDTV.”

Cue Elmer.

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