3D TV arrives in Canada

Three-dimensional television has arrived in Canada with Samsung selling LCD screens equipped with the feature as of Friday, but they're not cheap.

Three-dimensional television has arrived in Canada with Samsung selling LCD screens equipped with the feature as of Friday, but they're not cheap.

Samsung's 3D TVs, which allow viewers to watch 3D films such as Avatar that have been popular in theatres recently, are retailing at $2,499 for the 40-inch model, and up to $3,699 for the 55-inch version.

The required glasses are sold separately, at $249 each for adult versions or $229 for children. A 3D-enabled Blu-ray movie player, along with the film Monsters vs. Aliens, also sells separately for $449.

Samsung is the first to market among several major electronics manufacturers that are betting on 3D to revive slowing screen sales.

Sony Canada is now taking pre-orders on 3D TVs, with shipping beginning in June. The company's offerings will start at $2,999 for a 40-inch screen along with two pairs of glasses, up to $5,499 for the 60-inch version.

Panasonic will also begin selling 3D TVs in Canada in May, ranging from $2,999 for the 50-inch version up to $4,999 for the 65-inch model.

Other manufacturers are also planning to launch 3D televisions this year.

A spokesperson for LG said sets are coming this year, while Toshiba said it will have offerings out by the holidays. A spokesperson for Sharp said the company is working on making 3D available, but did not yet have anything to announce.

Despite the push by manufacturers, consumers are still divided on whether they want to buy into the new technology. Many households have already spent thousands of dollars on flat-screen televisions in recent years and are wary of making similar additional expenditures.

Adding to the problem is the fact that many Blu-ray players bought before 2010 will not be compatible, forcing consumers to upgrade.

Sony's PlayStation 3 is a notable exception, however. A spokesperson for the company said the video-game console, which also plays Blu-ray movies, will get a downloadable upgrade this summer that will enable 3D capability.

Another issue for Canadians may be a lack of programming. While several U.S. producers, including ESPN and Discovery, have detailed plans to offer 3D channels this year, no announcements have been made on whether these will be available through television service providers in Canada.

A spokesperson for Rogers, Canada's largest cable provider, said the company is in talks to bring 3D programming north of the border, and is exploring the possibility of offering a dedicated 3D channel.

"3D TV is no longer a question of if but when, and we see content appearing very soon particularly with key sporting events" she said. "Rogers is well-positioned with the bandwidth capacity to offer 3D content." 

Fox Home Media, meanwhile, recently announced that Avatar — the most successful earnings movie ever and the poster child for 3D — will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 22, but not in 3D.

Home video industry analysts don't expect a 3D home version of the movie to become available until next year, after the market has already been established.

'Upgrade fatigue'

Some industry analysts say 3D will prove to be a niche product, and that consumers are starting to suffer from "upgrade fatigue."

"Beyond the lack of available programming issue, which is key, are consumers really ready to embrace yet another HD television set and high-tech 3D glasses as part of our home entertainment package?" said Sidney Eve Matrix, a film and media professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

"This technology will appeal to a niche segment of consumers, potentially those who are early adopters, videophiles and sports fans willing to pay for what promises to be an immersive and spectacular broadcasting experience," she said.

Analysts at UBS Warburg said in a research note this week that while 3D TV holds some promise, there are several challenges to selling it right now.

"The lack of content currently is a big issue. The movie Monsters vs. Aliens that is showcased is not that great for 3D in our opinion," wrote analyst William Truelove. "Customers who recently purchased a TV or Blu-ray player may not wish to upgrade in the near-term."

Still, manufacturers are predicting big sales.

LG this week said it expects to sell one million 3D TVs globally this year, or about one quarter of the market. The company believes the worldwide market will grow to 13 million units in 2011.