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Why Don't We Care About 3-D TV?

Consumer electronics companies are betting big on 3-D television. The 3-D landmark movie Avatar is the highest grossing film of all time, so it's no wonder Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, and Toshiba are aiming to bring that kind of box-office dough to the living room. Yet 3-D TVs haven't caught fire among consumers. Here's why it's the fault of marketers—not manufacturers.

At Best Buy's holiday preview event Tuesday, company heads discussed how 3-D TVs were a surprise disappointment for retailers. "The industry overall had higher expectations for 3-D than what we're seeing now," said Mike Vitelli, Best Buy president, Americas.

Indeed, adoption rates have been low. One recent survey revealed that 83% of respondents didn't consider 3-D TVs important enough to purchase. Having to wear 3-D glasses was a central complaint for consumers.

Best Buy, which has made 3-D TVs a centerpiece of its holiday offerings, doesn't think they're to blame. "It's a marketing problem," says Vitelli. "Both in stores and the way [it's] advertised currently, you get the concept that that's all it can do. It's limiting the consumer awareness and acceptance."

Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn agreed.

"One person said to me, 'Gee, I don't know if I would want a 3-D TV because if you don't have the glasses on, it's cloudy or fuzzy," Dunn said. "The truth is, a 3-D TV is your best 2-D TV as well. The 3-D is just a feature."

This is one message that the ads and promotional material have failed to convey to consumers. Try to think of a single commercial where the actors are not wearing oversize 3-D glasses, and flashy images aren't shown leaping from the screen toward laughing families or Justin Timberlake. You'd never know 3-D TVs work the same way as their 2-D counterparts, or that glasses are not required unless the content viewed is in 3-D.

"Marketing [needs] people to understand that it's a feature, like air conditioning in your car," said Vitelli. "Originally, air conditioning was a high-end feature. Now, it's ubiquitous."