If your answer is movies, then you’ll have to buy not just a new TV, but also a new 3-D Blu-ray player. And, of course, you’ll have to buy your movies all over again, or at least the 3-D ones.
If your answer is, “I’ll watch 3-D TV broadcasts,” well, you’ll do a lot of waiting. Several 3-D channels have been announced (by ESPN, DirecTV and a joint venture of Sony, Imax and Discovery). But count on a lot of repeats, at least at the outset; 3-D shows don’t really exist yet, and filming them requires expensive, heavy, dual-lens TV cameras.
None of these broadcasts will be in high definition, by the way. A 3-D broadcast requires a lot more data than a regular HDTV channel; it won’t fit in the same bandwidth unless you sacrifice some picture information. As a result, 3-D cable, satellite and Web broadcasts will offer only half the resolution (clarity) of HDTV. Only Blu-ray players will produce full, hi-def 3-D images.
Finally — and this is the big one — didn’t we just go through this? Didn’t the TV makers and broadcasters just finish dragging the populace through a confusing, expensive transition from our old TV system into the new, flat-panel, high-definition age? Didn’t we just buy flat-panel digital TV sets and Blu-ray players and Blu-ray movies, believing that we’d be set for the next decade at least?
And now we find out we’ve got to start all over again — buy a new TV, a new Blu-ray player, new movie discs — to accommodate this new format?
I think there’s something called Upgrade Fatigue, my friends, and I think the TV industry is about to face-plant right into it.
Now, 3-D boosters point out that these screens also work beautifully as regular sets for everything we already watch on TV. So it’s not that you’ll be left with nothing to watch if 3-D turns out to be a bust. They encourage us to think of 3-D TVs as regular hi-def sets with a little extra option. Indeed, some sets will be sold as “3-D ready,” meaning that you can add the glasses and transmitter later.
Just keep in mind that the next generation of TV technology was also on display at C.E.S.: 3-D sets that don’t require any glasses at all. Right now, they offer low resolution, limited viewing positions and headache-inducing images. But they’ll get better. And in a few more years, they’ll be ready.
That, no doubt, will be just after we’ve all junked our five-year-old HDTV sets, and bought the active-shutter 3-D screens that were on display at this year’s C.E.S.
David Pogue is a columnist for the New York Times and contributor to CNBC. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.