3-D or Not 3-D -- That Is the Question (at CES).

Ever since Avatar hit the theaters last year--its been clear that audiences would pay for 3-D. Hollywood has rushed films into production, and the consumer electronics industry has declared we are all to go out and buy 3-D TV's just as soon as we can.

sony 3-DWell, at CES this year, the sweet smell of 3-D was everywhere. The marketing so pervasive, the screens so sexy, you could almost be forgiven if you forgot just how murky the path to 3-D in the home truly remains.

First, the good news. 3-D production, the recording of 3-D video, is quickly arriving on store shelves. Sony wowed the crowed with the HDR-TD10, a simple and tiny HD camcorder that records and plays back in 3-D. The price is $1499.99, and the Sony rep I spoke to said you'd see it in Best Buy in the spring--and I'd venture to guess that the it will be moderately priced. After all, Sony really wants to sell pricey flat screens--and a home camcorder is one way to get families to jump in to 3-D recording with both feet.

The problem is of course the dorky glasses. They're expensive, uncomfortable, and just plain horrible. It's hard to imagine most TV users having to keep track of both their remote and a pair of 3-D glasses. The style issues not withstanding, how do you deal with the fact that the flatscreen is in the living room, junior is playing a game or watching a 3-D movie, and other family members are reading, cooking, and glance over at a blurry mess? 3-D puts a wrench in the whole 'communal viewing' experience.

glasses The expensive powered, "active-shutter" glasses that are incompatible from vendor to vendor. Sony glasses won't work with Samsung's 3-D TV's. Now--we have passive 3-D glasses. They're cheaper--$10 or $20. But the passive glasses result in half-resolution 3-D images Different glasses, different tech, and a very expensive entry point may keep buyers sitting on their hands for a bit.

no glassesAnd--just to further muddy the waters--Toshiba is touting "Glasses-Free 3-D TV"--and did a demonstration at CES of just such an innovation. But those that made it in to the inner sanctum of the demo described a 3-D experience that had a very narrow viewing range--and tended to make viewers nauseous. The 3-D is reported to be nowhere near as immersive or impressive as a screen that uses active shutter glasses. But Toshiba is going to release a high end glasses free model by the end of the year, sure to confuse already confused consumers.

So 3-D may not ready for prime time. Expensive, exclusionary, and stomach turning--hardly seems like a technology that is going to fly off the shelves. But early adopters will be there in droves, and unless holographic images show up soon--you can bet that folks will shell out for 3-D once the standards war over glasses and technology settles down a bit.

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