Cost, 3-D glasses keep would-be 3-D TV buyers in ‘wait and see’ mode

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Consumers are still holding back on the latest 3-D TV sets, according to a new report, with more than half of those surveyed saying that having to wear 3-D glasses and the cost of the sets themselves are key factors preventing purchases.

The Nielsen survey represents a sobering reality check for 3-D TV manufacturers. The number of would-be 3-D TV consumers who initially claimed they would be “very likely” to buy a 3-D TV set dropped precipitously after they’d actually watched a little 3-D video. And the percentage of those who said they were “not at all likely” to go the 3-D way more than doubled after they took a 3-D test drive.

The biggest concern for two-thirds of would-be 3-D TV shoppers was, unsurprisingly, price — after all, we’re still talking big, high-end flat-panel HDTVs, which aren’t exactly cheap. Exacerbating the problem, though, is the price of the powered “active-shutter” glasses you have to wear to get the 3-D effect: $150 a pair and up for most manufacturers, which makes watching “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” in 3-D a pricey proposition for a family of four. After cost, the next major issue for prospective 3-D TV buyers was the 3-D glasses themselves, Having to wear the rechargeable active-shutter lenses (which use LCD “shutters” that rapidly open and close in sync with the TV) made 57 percent think twice about the whole 3-D TV thing. Meanwhile, 89 percent complained that wearing the glasses made it harder to “multitask” while watching video — in other words, good luck checking your cell phone with those rapidly flickering lenses on.

Then there’s the “relative scarcity” of 3-D programming; 44 percent of those in the Nielsen survey wonder what they’d actually be able to watch in 3-D on their pricey new 3-D TV sets. The only major TV network in the U.S. that’s gone 3-D so far is ESPN, although Discovery is set to jump on the bandwagon next year. And while there are a handful of 3-D Blu-ray discs on the market (“Monster House,” “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” “Monsters vs. Aliens”), the biggest of the big 3-D movies — “Avatar” — won’t arrive on 3D Blu-ray until December, and only then with the purchase of a Panasonic 3-D TV.

And while those who tried 3-D TV for themselves had some good things to say about the experience — 57 percent agreed that 3-D made them feel like a “part of the action,” and 48 percent said they felt “more engaged” by what they were watching — the percentage of those who counted themselves as “very likely” to buy a 3-D TV within a year tumbled from 25 percent to 12 percent after they’d sampled the 3-D goods, while those claiming to be “not at all likely” to cough up for a 3-D TV set shot up to 30 percent, from 13 percent. Not good. (You can check out the complete chart right here.)

Personally, I have to admit that I’m not all that eager to trade in my 2-D HDTV for a -3D model, pretty much for all the same reasons that those in the Nielsen survey mentioned. For one thing, I just bought a new HDTV a couple of years ago, and I’m not nearly ready to trade up yet. I’m also not thrilled with the prospect of 3-D glasses, especially given that they cost $150 a pop.

And speaking purely for myself … there’s nothing all that compelling to watch, at least not yet. For me, there’s exactly one movie I’d like to see in 3-D: “Avatar,” and it’s not out on 3-D Blu-ray yet. (I have seen the 2-D Blu-ray of “Avatar,” and I was impressed by how good it looked — as well as surprised that I didn’t miss the 3-D effect that much once I got into the action.)

So, is 3-D TV in trouble? Not necessarily. As the years roll on, my suspicion is that more and more HDTVs will be 3-D-ready (it’s really just a matter of having a video refresh rate that’s fast enough to display the necessary left and right images), leaving consumers with the choice of spending more for the required glasses and infrared transmitters … if they’re interested. And hey — if “no glasses” 3-D TVs ever arrive, all bets are off.

My guess for the near future, though, is that 3-D on TV will be more of an optional extra than a must-have.

That’s just my take, though. What about you? Any interest in 3-D TV?

By Ben Patterson is a technology writer for Yahoo! News.

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