When it comes to TVs, 3D is the new buzzword. Well it certainly was at this year's IFA, Europe's largest consumer electronics show. But is the technology at a point that we really will be embracing it in our living rooms in 2010? We took a long hard look at Sony's efforts on its stand on the show floor.
Before you get excited, as with all these 3DTV concepts, currently on show from Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, Philips and Toshiba, the first thing that you should be aware of is that you'll need a new TV. In this case a Bravia model that hasn't yet be finalised, priced or even given a firm release date.
Get the TV and by the time it comes out in 2010 finding content shouldn't be a problem. The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) is trying to add a 3D standard to the HD disc format and Sony has also confirmed that PS3 games, regardless of age, should be able to be "turned" 3D thanks to a software update.
Couple that with Sky saying they are hoping to go three-dimensional in 2010 and Hollywood kicking into gear with blockbuster movies, albeit mostly cartoons, and you'll have plenty of content in around 12-24 months. After all, DVD launched in the UK with just four movies - and they weren't the blockbusters you would expect (Fly Away Home, A Few Good Men, the three tenors, and some documentary). If Avatar from James Cameron is a success, expect 3D content to go into overdrive.
Back to Sony's 3DTV and the technology works by delivering two 1080p (Full HD) pictures simultaneously on the screen. To the naked eye it's a jumbled mess of imagery that you even after a couple of beers you would find hard to decode.
That decoding is done via a pair of glasses that you don. Sony's efforts are Ray-Ban esque, making you look super cool, and have the added mechanics of a shutter system to make the picture work.
Put them on and it takes a couple of seconds before the technology kicks in, the picture darkens slightly and the action on screen comes to life.
The electronic shutter system works by basically fooling your brain into seeing the two pictures as one. This can be replicated (alas very badly) by quickly closing and opening your eyes alternately left to right (you don't have to do it now).
Once you've put on the glasses and fired up some content you'll be sucked into a 3D dimension world that will either work or not depending on the content at hand. We experienced a slight delay in the glasses working but it's nothing to be too concerned about. That's not to say that the technology doesn't work, it's just that some applications will be better than others.
Sony, keen to show off the technology in a number of guises had plenty of content to watch. Football for example doesn't really work, most likely due to the fast moving action on the screen that means you have trouble focusing on the 3D elements before they change. It's a similar experience we had to when we viewed the Sky HD 3D demo in 2009. Football it seems, just doesn't work in 3D.
So what did work? Well two things really made us want it now rather than having to wait a possible 12 months.
The first was an underwater documentary filmed somewhere like the Red Sea. Maybe its because I've dived around the world I could associate with the content, but whether that's the case or not, it was stunning. Schools of fish had depth, and when the big shark came swimming towards me - well I found myself taking a step back, albeit small one.
The second demo we enjoyed the most was gaming. In short wow. First we watched a demo of Motorstorm and then played a level of WipeOut HD. I have to say both were amazing with the 3D element really adding to the experience.
The naysayers of course will be quick to point out both are driving games, both a defined perspective and horizon line. Sony were also showing cut sequences from Killzone 2, however it wasn't playable content so hard to see how it would fair in 3D. Still back to WipeOut HD and the 3D elements really added to the experience. Of course gameplay is still important, and unlike movies, content doesn't really fly out at you, but it does make for a considerably more visual feast.
3D TV is usually accused of making you sick, hot and well generally uncomfortable as your brain works in overdrive to process all the information being thrown at it "artificially" by your eyes (yes we know we see in 3D all the time). However we luckily aren't one of those people and while other journalists at the show we talked to weren't so sure about the shuttering technology used by Sony - preferring Philips system with no shutter glasses needed - we can see this being a big hit for those who want to immerse themselves in the experience.
Certainly at first this isn't going to be for everyday television. I don't think Eastenders is ready for 3D just yet, however games and movies lend themselves perfectly to the technology.
The catch? While your PS3 should, if Sony's words come true, be updateable with a quick software patch the same can't be said for your TV. That's right, you'll need a new one.
Lets hope that when it comes to upgrade - possibly in time for the 2010 World Cup - a format will be finalised and TV sets available so at least you can use the football as an excuse to upgrade.
Sony's 3DTV Bravia set is to be released sometime in 2010.
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