3-D Making Major In-Roads In Home Theater Market

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3-D TV is here, and here to stay. At a special event staged by David Berman at Stereo Exchange (New York's oldest specailty AV retailer), it became quite clear what will be happening over the next few years, even at a Costco and WalMart near you. On display were several examples of the very latest front and rear projectors, including a 65 inch and 82 inch Mitsubishi HDTV, that demonstrate a leap forward as great as that of color television in the mid 1960s: 3-D picture presentation that has the potential to truly knock your socks off.

Demonstrating two (out of a total of eight) single-chip 1080P DLP Dark Chip 4 based rear projectors, models 65737 ($1,599 MSRP) and 82737 ($2,999 MSRP), which are available today from Best Buy (Magnolia Home Theaters) and PC Richards & Sons, Mitsubishi offered a compelling sample of film previews (G-Force, The Hangover, Battle For Terra), TV shows (Parachute Jump) and video games (Need For Speed, World of Warcraft, Tomb Raider) using active LCD shutter glasses (sold separately by several manufacturers) that delivered an overwhelming view of the future of home theater entertainment.

Of course, the 3-D effect is only visible while wearing the special active-shutter glasses, which synchronize with the picture via a separate infrared transmitter that is located near the front of the room. Otherwise, two distinctly separate images are seen, rendering a rather confusing viewing experience for anyone not using the special glasses (about $99 each). But with these glasses, the depth of images was unmistakable and provided a much more realistic viewing experience than all but the most absurdly expensive large screen projection systems located in dedicated home theaters. Both of these sets feature a 2-D mode, for programming in both standard- and high-definition, as well as accommodating those occasions when the number of viewers is larger than the number of available infrared controlled LCD glasses. Most remarkably, according to Mitsubishi's Michael Press, pricing on these pioneering sets makes it possible for the average consumer to become an early adopter of 3-D technology.

Also on display was a truly high-end front projector from Digital Projection Inc: the Titan Reference 1080P 3-D ($65,000 MSRP), one of half a dozen 3D capable units being offered by this company which created startlingly clear, bright, and deep images, even with some ambient lighting present. Their goal, according to DP's Michael Bridwell, is to be at the center of big screen dedicated home theater rooms, and from what my wife and I saw at the event - they have a major head start in this upcoming market. LCD shutter glasses were provided by Mechdyne, and were remarkably comfortable, even when worn over regular eyeglasses. There was no sense of eye fatigue, even after watching for several hours, and the apparent depth of image is adjustable on each of these projectors using one simple control.

Two very perceptive woman shoppers, who had come to the store for a much needed home theater update (after 20 years of satisfaction with their previous purchase) were surprised by the immediate availability of 3-D TVs for Christmas, and wondered how long it would be before programming might be available. I pointed out that Mitsubishi in particular had been a leader in offering HDTV sets and sponsoring CBS-HD programming a decade ago, championing some of the first 1080i films shown on television and such well known shows as "Two and a Half Men" and "Everybody Loves Raymond." So with sets available now, it is a strong bet that 3-D TV programs are right around the corner.

Digital Projection is currently offering two levels of their Dimension 3D server that interface exclusively with their 3D projectors. Sony's CEO, Sir Howard Stringer, has made it abundantly clear he will make the Playstation 3 the de facto 3-D gaming platform, as well as defining the technical specifics for 3-D Blu-ray discs of movies and concert videos. And it seems a certainty that live sports programming will also be widely accepted, once available, offering a truly immersive viewing experience even from small televisions and the latest touch screen computers. Even now, reports are coming out suggesting that Sony, Samsung, LG, and Panasonic (who were noticeably absent from this event despite much promotion) will soon be offering 3-D LCD flat panel TVs to the public within the coming year. So finally, it seems, Ralph Kramden (The Honeymooners - 1955) will finally get his 3-D television.

Expect 3-D to be THE story from what could be a subdued upcoming Consumer Electronics Show. While electronics are strong sellers this holiday season, many exhibitors have been sitting on the sidelines with their development, marketing and show budgets, which will affect CES 2011 on many levels. 3-D is the sleeper story with a lot of WOW factor for consumers, dealers and the movie business. Critics say 3-D can be a cheesy effect more than a powerful tool. Directors will have to learn how to use the new media with discretion as it develops into a mainstream technology which likely will take a solid five years to get truly established for mainstream America.


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