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How close are you to having 3-D TV?

By Doug Gross, CNN
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TV of the future
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 3-D television has started to look like a reality at this week's CES
  • ESPN, DreamWorks, Direct TV and Discovery have announced they'll have content for the TVs
  • Sony, Samsung, LG and Panasonic are among those who say they'll have 3-D TVs
  • Skeptics fear 3-D glasses will be unwieldy and TVs will cost too much

(CNN) -- At this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, the prospect of 3-D television in your home has taken a fast and flamboyant leap from vague concept to reach-out-and-touch reality.

Vendors have lined up to roll out 3-D televisions, hoping to become the leader in a market proponents say will change the way the world watches TV as much as the switch from black-and-white to color.

More cautious observers have concerns about whether the technology for a quality experience exists yet, whether the price will be right and whether there will be enough content to make the TVs worthwhile.

But the success of movies like "Avatar" and "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" has viewers hankering for more.

And they're getting it.

Manufacturers like Sony, Samsung, LG and Panasonic have either rolled out 3-D products or are expected to in the next couple of days.

Content providers like ESPN, DreamWorks, Direct TV and Discovery have said they're ready to send images jumping off TV screens in the coming year.

So, just where does this leave you if you're hoping for a "comin' at ya" experience from the tube?

How much will it cost?

Specifics so far are sketchy, but logic suggests it will cost a lot, at least at first.

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That said, some manufacturers are promising they can get 3-D televisions on the market for roughly the price of high-end high-definition TVs.

Phillips had a no-glasses 3-D television on the market until March, when it was pulled amid an economy unfriendly to its price. It ranged from $3,000-$12,000 depending on the model.

One seller online has a 42-inch model of the TV still listed at $8,999.

The manufacturers who so far have rolled out 3-D offerings at CES have done so without including a price. But several suggest the Phillips price may be high.

Richard LaBerge, of Sensio Technologies, which has developed a form of 3-D, suggested to CNN that the TV prices would be near or slightly above current top-end prices.

"The target is to have it at the same price as a normal 2-D TV, or with a little bit of premium, but something acceptable to add this immersive effect into your home that people would be able to accept," he said.

When can I get it?

Almost every company touting a 3-D television this week has said they plan to be on the market sometime in 2010.

In a way, the content is driving the technology. By going ahead and announcing that they'll be on the air, folks like ESPN, Discovery and Direct TV have dangled a carrot in front of viewers -- and lit a fuse under TV manufacturers to get their products out before the content starts airing.

ESPN plans to be up in June. You can bet every manufacturer with a product ready to sell will try to be in stores before avid sports fans start sniffing around.

How does it work?

All 3-D technology relies on the idea that if separate images are presented to the left and right eyes, the human brain will combine them and create the illusion of a third dimension.

With technology that uses 3-D glasses, two images -- one for the right eye and one for the left eye -- alternate quickly on the TV. Shutters on the 3-D glasses swap the viewer's vision from right eye to left eye at the same rate.

The TV connects with the glasses through a sensor that's placed between the lenses on the glasses.

The effect moves so quickly that it tricks the brain into merging the images and creates the perspective needed to see images in 3-D.

What could go wrong?

Some analysts are concerned that 3-D broadcasts, which require twice the data, will gobble up an unworkable amount of television bandwidth.

Some also worry that 3-D glasses and graphics won't make a smooth transition to American living rooms.

Shane Sturgeon, publisher of HDTV Magazine, said recently that some of the glasses give him a headache and could dissuade some people from buying the new technology.