Where Is All Of The 3D Content?

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Avatar-Blu-ray-hometheater.gifIf you're currently shopping for a new HDTV, you may be wondering whether or not to invest in a 3D-capable model. The main question is the same one that faces any early adopter: Is there enough content to justify the higher cost of a 3D TV? Ultimately, only you can say how much content is enough. Our job is to tell you what's available right now (hint: not much) and what's planned for the near future (a little bit more, we think). For this article, we're focusing on movies and television content, but a lot is going on in the gaming arena that should excite fans of that genre.

Blu-ray 3D
3D movies are certainly not a new invention, and many of these titles have made their way to DVD or Blu-ray. Buy or rent these 3D movies, pop on a pair of passive 3D glasses, and watch the film just like you did in the theater. That's not the kind of 3D content we're talking about here. To enjoy the official "Blu-ray 3D" format approved by the Blu-ray Disc Association, you need a new 3D Blu-ray player, a new 3D HDTV, and active-shutter 3D glasses. Once you have the necessary hardware in place, you should look for discs that specifically say "Blu-ray 3D."

The good news is, a number of reasonably priced 3D Blu-ray players are already available from companies like Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and LG. The bad news is, as I write this, the only "Blu-ray 3D" disc available through standard retail channels is Sony's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Other Blu-ray 3D discs have been authored, but currently you can only get your hands on them if you purchase 3D hardware. The Samsung 3D Starter Pack includes Monsters vs. Aliens, and Panasonic offers Coraline and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs with the purchase of a VT25 Series plasma. Buy a Sony 3D TV, and you'll get a copy of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Deep Sea (IMAX) and a PlayStation Network voucher to download 3D gaming content to the console.

Needless to say, 2009 and 2010 have seen their fair share of high-profile theatrical hits in 3D: Avatar, Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland, Shrek Forever After and Despicable Me, to name a few. Inevitably these films will arrive on the Blu-ray 3D format, but how long that will take is left to speculation. The studios have been frustratingly slow to offer clear, firm release dates on any Blu-ray 3D titles. For instance, although the 2D Blu-ray version of Avatar is available, we still don't know when we'll see the Blu-ray 3D version. HollywoodinHiDef.com has reported that the Blu-ray 3D version will be available in November, but only as a bundled perk with Panasonic 3D Blu-ray players (my Panasonic rep neither confirmed nor denied the report--stating that it is, at this point, "only a rumor."). Bundling 3D content exclusively with hardware seems to be the rollout strategy, which may help hardware sales but is likely an irritation to those who have already purchased a 3D system and want more content.

3D TV Channels
As with adoption of high-definition television, the widespread availability of 3D television channels could be the key to the format's success. And, as with HDTV, sports programming is a logical place to entice converts. That's why it comes as no surprise that the first dedicated 3D channel was ESPN 3D, which went live on June 11. Recent 3D coverage included World Cup matches and the MLB Home Run Derby. ESPN 3D is being carried by DirecTV, Comcast and AT&T U-Verse. Nature shows and other documentaries could also be an early 3D fave (as they were for high-def), and Discovery has teamed with Sony and IMAX to launch an upcoming 3D channel for this type of programming. An official launch date has not yet been announced.

DirecTV subscribers are in the best position to enjoy broadcast 3D content right now. In addition to ESPN3D, DirecTV offers a DirecTV Cinema channel, as well as two "n3D" channels that are sponsored by Panasonic (the 3D channels run from channels 103 to 106). On the cable side, Comcast offers ESPN3D and one 3D Events Channel that shows special-event programming. Other providers, like Time Warner and Cox, have aired special events in 3D (like this year's Masters golf tournament) but do not yet have channels in place.

Clearly, we've got a ways to go before enough 3D content is available to satisfy a mass audience. But all that really matters is whether or not it's enough to satisfy you. For some early adopters, half the fun is being first to the party when each new 3D film or 3D channel arrives. If that describes you, then now may be the perfect time to invest in a 3D TV.

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