Our recap of Blu-con 2010 continues with an updated look at 3D Blu-ray.
by Michael S. Palmer
What a difference a year makes!
Last November, I attended Blu-Con 2.0 and was excited to announce 3D's inclusion into Blu-ray's list of abilities. Admittedly, I may have been a teeny-tad bit over-enthusiastic (and used far too many exclamation points). But what the hell? We're all entitled to a geek out now and again in the presence of the Shiny and the New. Twelve months into the future, 2009 seems so long ago. A time before 'Avatar' and 3D became a phenomenon. For a few sweet months, 3D was a guaranteed box office boost, but added competition on too few screens and sloppy post-conversions slowed things down a bit.
While theatrical box office records were exploding, home cinema electronics manufacturers like Panasonic, LG, Samsung, Toshiba, and Sony introduced a fleet of new 3D capable hardware. Things started slow, but in a few short months 3D TV and 3D Blu-ray Player sales topped $55 Million even though there was only one 3D Blu-ray on the market and before there were any 3D television channels. Sony said 3D (through its 3D Players, AV Receivers, TVs, Home-Theatre-In-A-Boxes, and cameras) is their fastest growing department year over year. Granted, these statistics don't necessarily speak to swarms of people demanding 3D. But that's just a case of "when." 3D is coming whether you want it or not.
3D is a compatibility Trojan Horse.
Consider the fact that there are 30 3D-ready products actively for sale at this time. Or that nearly 39 million PlayStation 3s have been sold which just became 3D Blu-ray players in their latest firmware update. Granted, the PS3 may not be able to play 3D and lossless audio simultaneously, but it and the 3D products already out there represent millions of devices just waiting to be activated (as soon as the people of Troy go to bed. Muhahahaha!).
Now, I've heard all your complaints. 3D simply doesn't work for a small portion of the population, or it causes headaches. Further, most the High-Def Digest readers (myself included) have already invested far too much money in our 2D Blu-ray home theatres. It's insulting to be asked to buy another TV, another Blu-ray player, another AV Receiver…especially at a time when there's nothing to watch.
I hear you, friends, but here's a little bit of sober truth:
We don't have to upgrade. No one is forcing anyone to buy anything new. These are what my grandfather would call luxuries. Sure we'll be green with envy because we're high-definition enthusiasts, and if you actually care about 3D (no one's saying you must, mind you), you want it. It sucks to be left behind. To be the guy who purchased a new Mac G5 only to have the faster/Windows compatible Intel chips released within six months. To be the guy who bought a 2010 Mustang GT with its brand new modern-yet-classic body, only to have Ford bring back the 5.0 in 2011, dumping 25 percent more power under the hood for the same price.
But here's Part Deux of our Truth-i-thon:
80 percent of the country doesn't have a Blu-ray player yet and if/when they get their first one, it's probably going to be 3D ready. Early adopters may scream loudest, but we're the minority here. 3D players are available now, and while they're not dirt-cheap, they're not crazy-pricey either. Further, anyone who's in the market for a new flatscreen will notice 3D TVs aren't that much more expensive than their feature/spec-equal two dimensional sibling models. And they offer that ever so tantalizing sheen of "future proof."
3D is becoming ubiquitous, and the reps from Sony and Samsung on Blu-Con 2010's 3D panel are saying consumers love in-store demos. As I theorized last year, everyone finally sees the upgrade between DVD and 3D Blu-ray. Or how about this interesting notion: Jim Mainard, Head of Production Technology for DreamWorks, said Blu-ray hasn't typically been a great business for Dreamworks because animated family films need to be portable. Kids watch movies over and over and over again, but Blu-rays don't play in cars or on mobile devices where they are often needed. With 3D Blu-ray (all four Shreks are being prepped; the first three re-mastered for 3D), they see young kids returning to the television (portability needs are also solved by combo packs).
Despite my belief 3D will be around for a while, 3D still has some hefty hurtles to vault.
Amazon reported there's still a lot of confusion in the market place. People don’t know what gear they need to play 3D, and if they purchase new 3D gear, if it will ONLY play 3D product. The answer to these questions, dear readers looking to know, is that to watch 3D Blu-ray, you will need the following:
- (1) 3D-Blu-ray Player (it will also play traditional Blu-rays, DVDs, and CDs while most likely having an internet connection for streaming services like Netflix and Vudu).
- (1) 3D HDTV (Newer models are the best; pre-2010 3D technology, like rear projection Mitsubishis, needs an adaptor).
- (1 or more) pairs of 3D glasses (at this time, it's wise to match these to your TV's brand).
- (1-2) HDMI 1.4a compliant cable(s).
For a simple set up, that's it.
If you want lossless surround sound, no problem. You'll need to add either A) an HDMI 1.4a compliant AV Receiver with "3D Pass-through" or B) a 3D-Blu-ray player with 2 HDMI outputs (one for video, one for audio).
[For more detail, my High-Def Digest colleagues, Nate and Steve, are writing an official 3D gear guide, with their personal experiences and tips on what to purchase. Look for it within the next week or so. Additionally, I will be penning my annual Black Friday & Holiday Shopping Guide. All the gear recommended in my guide will also be 3D compliant.]
But wait just a damn minute, Palmer!
What the hell am I supposed to watch? There's almost no 3D Blu-ray titles out now, there are like two 3D TV channels, and half the titles released are tied up in these damned exclusive bundles.
Ah yes, bundles.
It's interesting, actually, to hear the different strategies. Samsung and Dreamworks were both speakers on the Blu-con 2010 panel, and they of course have an exclusive partnership. They want to make sure anyone dipping a toe in 3D waters gets a perfect out-of-box experience. They want 3D to work perfectly, and they want it to look great.
Imagine, for example, a family purchase a 3D TV and then the first thing they do is mistakenly watch the terrible red & blue anaglyph 3D (not the official "3D Blu-ray" spec at all). They might never buy a real 3D Blu-ray, or they might return the player and television. A crazy example admittedly, but there are millions of people right now watching standard definition TV on an HDTV because they don't know they need a new cable box, or a Blu-ray player, or just that they need to tune to the right channel! Ladies and germs, the unwashed masses. Or perhaps in more respectable terms, they're just not techo-nerds like you and me.
I can understand studio and manufacturer motives in bundling, but agree more with Sony's Brian Siegel. Brian said Sony wants that great out-of-box experience too, but sees no reason for exclusivity because it's frustrating and customers really shouldn't be associating 3D with "free."
So bundles will remain for a while (as they do for most gaming consoles). Panasonic is about to start one with 'Avatar' and it'll probably help them sell a lot of TVs. Those of you who went with Samsung, Sony, or another brand, sadly you'll have to wait. The exclusivity terms will end. It's just a real shame these companies are making the early adopter suffer (after investing so much hard-earned coin) for the appalling grievance of wanting to give them cash money.
The real trouble with 3D is the content pipeline. All of James Cameron's rentable cameras are out all the time. Thousands of hours of television and feature films are being made and completed as we speak. And Discovery Channel is finally getting ready to launch a 3D channel (remember Discovery HD Theater? I used to watch that for hours when it was the only HD channel.), but that's still a ways out. At the end of the day, anyone pondering a 3D purchase should consider these two options this early in the game:
1) More titles are coming soon.
November 16 is unofficially becoming 3D Day. Warners is releasing six titles, including 'Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore 3D', 'Clash of the Titans 3D', 'The Polar Express 3D', 'IMAX Deep Sea 3D', 'IMAX Under the Sea 3D', 'IMAX Space Station 3D'. Disney and Sony have joined in, as well, with 'A Christmas Carol 3D' and 'Open Season 3D', respectively. 'Avatar 3D' will be out on December 1 for Panasonic 3D TV buyers. And this is just the start. 36 titles will be available by year's end. Definitely not a lot, but it's a start, which means:
2) If there isn't a title you desperately need right-this-minute!, then why not take some time, save your money, and wait for prices to drop even further as they do year-after-year. There's no rush. And the technology itself will improve (they're working on cheaper, lighter, more stylish, and eye-friendly glasses, among other things). Hey, if you wait 8-10 years, you won't even need the glasses.
Of course, some of you may be reading this and in need of a replacement television or Blu-ray player. But if you have any interest in 3D and may want to watch 3D in the future, spend a relatively few extra bucks and get 3D gear.
3D is here to stay. There's just nothing to watch…yet.