3D TV on a slow boil

Television makers are hoping 3D becomes a hit this holiday season after an underwhelming reception from consumers for most of the year.

Analysts expect sales to ramp up in coming years

Television makers are hoping 3D becomes a hit this holiday season after an underwhelming reception from consumers for most of the year.

Only about two per cent of all flat-panel televisions sold in North America since their introduction this year were 3D-enabled, according to Santa Clara, Calif.-based research firm DisplaySearch. High prices, a lack of content and the need to wear glasses have all impaired consumers' desire to buy, the firm said in a report released this week.

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"While TV manufacturers have bold plans and a lot of new products, consumers remain cautious," said Paul Gray, DisplaySearch's director of TV electronics research. "Consumers have been told that 3D TV is the future, but there still remains a huge price jump and little 3D content to watch."

Manufacturers are aware of the problems and are hoping to counteract them. Samsung, for one, recently began selling a bundle in Canada that includes a 50-inch 3D plasma screen with Blu-ray player and two pairs of glasses for $1,299 to address the price issue.

"It's something we wanted to introduce to the market to get people more interested," said Jerry Ferreira, field marketing representative for Samsung Canada, at a product demonstration in Toronto on Thursday. "As prices become more affordable, people will start to veer more towards having that 3D functionality."

Graham Anderson, product trainer for Toshiba Canada, said at a demonstration in Toronto last week that 3D TVs generally carry a price premium of around $400 over 2D sets. That premium, along with the dearth of content, has made it an even tougher sell to people who have recently bought non-3D televisions.

"Customers who have recently spent a couple thousand dollars on a TV for last Christmas, do they really want to spend another $3,000 on a 3D TV so they can watch five movies?" he said. "Maybe that's why it hasn't been adopted as quickly as the market had hoped."

Turning 2D into 3D

Most manufacturers are now including up-converting technology in their higher-end 3D sets to make up for the content shortage. New televisions, such as Samsung's LED 9000 and Toshiba's Regza WX800, use souped-up processors to transform two-dimensional content, including movies or photos, into 3D.

Still, the manufacturers are depending heavily on Hollywood studios to produce proper 3D content that will help sell televisions and Blu-ray players. The signals from studios, though, have so far been mixed.

Many in the industry were left scratching their heads over Twentieth Century Fox's decision earlier this year to release James Cameron's 3D mega-blockbuster Avatar as a 2D Blu-ray disc. Television makers were hoping that a 3D disc would sell more of their televisions and players. (A 3D version of the Blu-ray is rumoured for January.)

Others are showing signs of backing down on 3D. Warner Bros. recently announced it was axing the conversion of the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 movie. The film will instead be released on Nov. 19 in regular 2D because the studio was not satisfied with its 3D quality.

On the other hand, most films that have been released in 3D have done exceptionally well. About 91 per cent of the $50 million U.S. opening for the latest Jackass movie last weekend, a new fall record, came from 3D showings, according to Hollywood.com.

Manufacturers and analysts alike therefore believe 3D is not a passing fad, but rather a technology that has simply seen slow adoption in its early days, not unlike DVD. DisplaySearch believes 3D TVs will account for 41 per cent of all sets sold in 2014.

A new survey from Toronto-based analysis firm Solutions Research Group found that 3D technology has excellent awareness among consumers, and that most are excited about it — both in the theatre and at home.

About 31 per cent of consumers polled by the company indicated they were interested in buying a 3D TV, although many will probably wait a while until prices come down and content availability improves. But both supply and demand are trending in the same direction.

"Anyone with a kid will tell you all else being equal they will choose the 3D version of a movie," said SRG president Kaan Yigit.

"Movie studios are looking for incremental dollars for their video content as the regular DVD market is in a nosedive trajectory. Box office for 3D has been impressive even at higher ticket prices and there is a segment in the DVD space, like kids, sci-fi, action categories, where there is significant potential."

What about the glasses problem? Toshiba, for one, recently announced the availability of 3D TVs in Japan that don't require glasses, but the screens are small at 12 and 24 inches. They're also expensive at around $1,500 and $3,000 respectively.

The technology is bound to improve and get cheaper but manufacturers agree that, for now, glasses are where it's at.

"That's a technology that's not 100 per cent proven yet, but glasses technology is proven," said Samsung's Ferreira.

About 52 per cent of respondents to SRG's survey said they found glasses to be a real inconvenience, but those numbers skewed differently depending on who was asked.

"The younger you are the more likely you are to say, 'No big deal,'" Yigit said. "That's a plenty  big market for the next few years."