This week's glitzy launch of Samsung's first 3D TV set has everyone from "Lost" fans to Avatar director James Cameron talking about the latest development in home entertainment. (Watch an AP report about 3D TV.) So how does immersive television work, and what kind of programming will be available for those who take the plunge? Here's a concise guide:
How much will a 3D set cost?
For $2900 you can equip yourself with a Panasonic 50-inch plasma set, a 3D-capable Blu-ray DVD player, and viewing glasses. Or, in the words of one blogger, approximately "$1000 [per] D."
So viewers have to wear 3D glasses?
Yes. But not the "funny paper glasses with colored lenses" familiar from 1950s horror flicks, says MSNBC. Instead, viewers wear "funny plastic glasses with polarized lenses" designed to sync with "the refresh rate on the TV monitor. In effect, you see one frame with the left eye, the next with the right — repeated, say, 60 times a second." They're not cheap — extra pairs will cost as much as "$150 a pop."
Is watching 3D television safe?
Not necessarily. According to the Daily Mail, potential side-effects of watching 3D television for extended periods of time may include "headaches and visual disturbances."
Can you watch normal TV on a 3D set?
Yes. Normal TV channels show up in high definition 2D.
What is the 3D TV experience like?
Watching ESPN's X-Games coverage on 3D TV was "pretty impressive," says Andrea Adelson at the Orlando Sentinel. The skiing events "made you feel like you were on top of that mountain," instead of sitting in a mountain-less room.
Who's the target market?
Influential couch-potatoes, it seems. The "target consumer" is someone "immersed in the TV experience," says Sue Shim, Samsung's chief managing officer. He or she will likely be an "early adopter" and a "thought or opinion leader amongst [his or her] peers."
Are TV shows actually being shown in 3D yet?
Very few. According to James Cameron, the pioneer of 3D technology in the movies, 3D TV is still in its infancy. "The TVs are going to take a while to catch up with the marketplace," he tells USA Today. "Right now we've got a content gap."
Is 3D content more expensive to produce?
Not according to Cameron, who claims there's only an "incremental cost" increase involved in shooting a typical TV program in 3D versus 2D — though attempts to pull off truly boggling visual effects (say, a tornado to menace "Two and a Half Men") would involve a "significant uptick."
On the production side, who's most likely to embrace 3D TV first?
Sports broadcasters. ESPN is launching its 3D channel on June 11 with a telecast of the World Cup soccer match in South Africa. DirecTV has also "dropped a teaser" that its baseball All-Star Game would be broadcast in 3D this year on one of three 3D channels dedicated to movies and sports programming.
What about 3D movies?
Panasonic will be giving away a 3D Blu-Ray disc of Monsters and Aliens with its 3D set, and Dreamworks plans to release all four Shrek movies on 3D in association with Samsung. Other movies are reportedly "coming soon."
But I'll be able to watch Avatar in 3D when it comes out on DVD, right?
No. Fox says it has no plans to release the "standard bearer" in 3D Blu-Ray anytime soon: "The market is not there in the short term."
Is anyone else planning 3D TV content?
Yes. Sony will release 3D videogames for the Playstation 3. And fans of the pop singer Lady Gaga will be pleased to know she's determined to release a 3D DVD of her "Monster's Ball" tour. Prepare for unprecedented dimensions of Gaga-ness.