In your face action

 

Having cleared some space in his living room, drawn the curtains and put on the glasses, Ian Campbellis ready to watch 3D TV and play 3D PlayStation

THE SUCCESS of Avatarand Alice in Wonderlandat the cinema is offered up by television manufacturers as evidence of a consumer appetite for 3D entertainment in the home. It remains to be seen if people are really prepared to wear dark glasses in their living rooms and pay a premium for televisions that deliver the extra dimension.

To date, solid facts about the adoption of the technology are scarce. Analysts expect a rapid growth in 3D TV sales, but this is hardly surprising because 3D chips will be bundled with a growing number of new TVs and Blu-ray players. As with HD, you will buy the functionality whether you choose to use it or not.

Sky is launching its dedicated 3D channel in the autumn and there is talk of as many as 30 3D Blu-ray titles available by the end of the year. Anyone buying one of the sets currently on sale though will have to make do with a handful of computer animated movies and some demo discs.

Despite the shortage of content, Panasonic, Sony, Samsung and LG have all entered the market with 3D TVs and Blu-ray players. To put the technology through its paces, I spent time with the 50-in Panasonic Viera TX-P50VT20B Plasma.

At €2,599, this 3D HDTV is among the most expensive models on the market, costing €700 more than its 2D equivalent – not exactly the modest premium manufacturers had told us we would pay for the technology. You could buy a decent sized TV for the difference. The accompanying Blu-ray player is the €500 DMP-BDT300EG, taking the total asking price to just over €3,000.

This presupposes that you make do with the two pairs of active shutter glasses that come with the set. Additional pairs cost €110 each.

Another niggle is that the new generation of flat-screen TVs, not just 3D sets, have poor sound quality because the pursuit of an ultra-slim design means the on-board speakers have to go on the back.

Frankly, they are not very good. Manufacturers will of course encourage you to splash out at least another €500 on surround-sound systems. This is getting very expensive.

So, is it worth the price of admission? Not right now. There is simply not enough content to seriously entertain anyone but the most eager early adopter. There are cheaper packages, such as the €1,300 40-in TV from Samsung and a €379 Blu-ray player, but the common consensus is that Panasonic is delivering the best experience in the first round of products.

The TX-P50VT20B reignites the long-standing battle of LCD versus plasma screens, with Panasonic arguing that its plasma technology is the best suited to realising 3D. The Viera sets use its NeoPDP technology for what it claims is a faster refresh rate that reduces the “crosstalk” found on 3D sets. The effect manifests itself as ghosting around the edge of images, irritating artefacts that undermine the 3D experience.

Having seen a number of 3D demonstrations, the problem does appear to be less obvious on the Panasonic set.

Panasonic also claim a higher contrast ratio which means blacks are really black and not the dull grey that mars the performance on cheaper LCD sets. It’s just as well the blacks are deep because the 3D pictures are noticeably darker than their 2D equivalent on the Panasonic. There are minor tweaks you can make to the image but you will not be able to make it any brighter.

Whether it’s a movie, a football match or a concert, watching 3D will be an intermittent event rather than all-evening entertainment, best enjoyed with the curtains drawn.

Because of the position of the TV in my livingroom, this was a necessity as daylight caused an annoying flicker in the corner of my eye.

A word on the glasses, which use active shutter technology. Unlike the passive ones you wear in 3D cinemas, they communicate via infra- red with the TV, sending alternate frame sequencing to each eye, synchronised with the screen’s refresh rate. Our brains respond by bringing the stereoscopic images together as a single 3D image.

The Panasonic eyewear may be a tad ungainly but the technology works wonderfully well – just remember to switch them on. Having watched Coralineand Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, I can confirm that the experience is every bit as good as the cinema.

Animators are already exploring the potential of 3D with a good deal more invention than early directors of 3D films.

Effects that pop-out of the screen are still there but the onus is on giving exotic landscapes new depth and making action sequences a richer experience. It worked for me.

While there are already smaller sets, and Panasonic is planning to expand its range to include 42-inch and 46-inch models, the 50-inch Viera provided an utterly immersive experience.

When there is more content and the asking price comes down, I would recommend it as another strand to home entertainment.

However, if TV viewers are slow to make the change, expect gamers to be a lot less hesitant in their changeover.

THE GAME'S THE THING: POSSIBILITIES FOR GRAPHIC 3D GAMING

SONY HAS been the most proactive of the game console manufacturers when it comes to launching 3D, probably because it makes 3D TVs and has two good reasons to drive adoption – three if you count Sony Pictures and its foothold in Hollywood where the new wave of 3D technology began

Users can go online and get a free firmware upgrade that makes PlayStation 3 3D compatible and there are four “classic” titles ready to buy and download for €29.99. The games are free when you buy a Sony Bravia 3D TV.

This first batch of titles are 2D games “retro-fitted” for 3D rather than designed from the ground up with 3D in mind. Still, they are a tantalising taste of things to come. Race games like Wipeout, where the point of view is always looking down a long track, benefit from the 3D effect.

With status controls around the edge of the screen in the foreground, the craft in the middle and the track and landscape receding into the distance, there is a genuine sense of depth.

Best of all was the single-level sample of Havok’s MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, which has some exhilarating jump and crash sequences. The smoke billowing out of the back of the vehicles is another neat touch.

One can only speculate on the graphic possibilities when game developers behind hit titles like Call of Duty get to grips with the new medium. An addictive pastime is about to get even more immersive.