TV industry needs a standard for 3D glasses -- now

If this technology is going to take off, vendors need to work together on a key issue, and soon.

After months of buzz, 3D television has officially arrived. Panasonic on Wednesday will launch its new series of 3D-enabled HDTVs at Best Buy, a move that's part of a united industry effort to bring three-dimensional entertainment to your living room.

Samsung may already be selling 3D TVs -- and if not, it will shortly. Sony is gearing up to launch its 3D-ready sets as well, and other vendors are sure to follow. 3D Blu-ray players are arriving too, as are channels of 3D programming from ESPN, Discovery, DirecTV, and other content providers.

Not So Fast, Four Eyes

So 3D is ready for its close up . . . right? Well, maybe not. While the industry players have hammered out technical standards that allow many 3D-ready components to work together -- any 3D Blu-ray player should work with any 3D television, for instance -- they haven't established one for the new type of 3D glasses that work with the sets.

"For the 3D TV industry, if you want fast adoption, or a nice, seamless, easy consumer experience, you want to work as hard as possible to make sure that everybody's glasses can be used at a friend's house," says DisplaySearch TV analyst Paul Gagnon.

But if your Sony 3D glasses don't work with your neighbor's Sharp 3D set, or vice versa, everybody may decide this 3D thing really isn't worth the trouble -- and the added cost.

Why? Because 3D programming, at least initially, will be limited to a small catalog of 3D movies, a smattering of nature shows, and maybe a few major sporting events like the World Series. It'll be like color television in the early 1960s, a novelty found mostly in the homes of affluent early-adopters.

Having a Super Bowl party? Let's say you invite ten friends over to watch the game in glorious 3D. There's a slim chance you'll buy ten pair of 3D glasses for everyone -- particularly when the high-tech shades are likely to cost $100 or more a pair, according to Gagnon.

And if each of your friends owns a 3D TV (which they certainly won't, but let's say they do), there's no guarantee their glasses will work with your set.

Some Good News

Since 3D capability will be a feature of many high-end HDTVs, there's a good chance consumers will buy a 3D-enabled set today, but stick with 2D programming until glasses become cheaper and (hopefully) standardized among vendors.

But as usual, early adopters will pay dearly for being, well, early.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com.

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