This column has seldom been a critic of technology - quite the contrary, in fact. Yet, the current trend of consumer electronics firms such as Samsung, LG and Sony promoting 3D televisions leaves us cold. Not because the technology itself is inferior, but because it doesn't yet have a supporting eco-system and is unreasonably expensive to boot.
A few years ago, if you were to buy a high definition TV, you would have run into the same argument - lack of content. While game consoles such as the Sony PS3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 had HD output, that was not reason enough to spend stupendous amounts on them. Now, however, there is a lot more - from HD channels to downloadable HD videos. But 3D is still stuck in a desert, and the hardware to play back 3D is still far too expensive.
How expensive? As for Samsung products, the price of a 40-inch Full-HD LCD panel is Rs 65,900. A much-slimmer Full-HD LED TV of the same size starts at Rs 86,000 and a 3D LED panel is Rs 130,000. Note that these are maximum retail prices, actual prices could be lower, but not by much. To play back 3D content, you will also need a newer Blu Ray Disc (BD) player that supports 3D - that will add another Rs 20,000. Simply put, you pay double the HD price to enjoy a small pool of 3D content. And while more content is being shot in 3D, releases are few and far between - unless you enjoy B-grade Hollywood horror flicks such as Piranha 3D.
There is another, and rather irritating, problem with 3D - the glasses. Different manufacturers are using different technologies to display 3D on their screens and this means that the glasses are not necessarily inter-changeable. One of the joys of having a big-screen TV is having a lot of people over to watch a movie or a sports event. So if you want to watch it on 3D you will need a lot many glasses. And the glasses are not cheap red or blue cellophane ones, either.
Still, we do believe that 3D will become standard over the next few years. Given the speed at which technology is evolving, it should not take too long, either. No doubt more 3D content is on its way - Sony for one is looking at developing 3D games for its PS3 console by 2011. This in itself is a good reason to hold out against buying a 3D TV right now, particularly as goggle-less TV is also being developed.
And just as HDTV prices have dropped from stratospheric levels over the past two years, 3D TV prices will also drop, maybe to the point where 3D becomes a standard feature on most flat-panel televisions. For the moment, however, if you wish to be at the digital vanguard, we suggest that you buy an iPad instead.