3D at CES: gimmick or AV revelation?

2009 is the year of 3D if CES is anything to go by. As was 2008, and 2007… if every other innovation fails, then 3D technology is wheeled in to wow audiences looking for the future of home entertainment. This time, however, it seems that the whole AV industry is at it.

While nothing at this year's show has convinced us that 3D is the future, manufacturers have been showing off some interesting concepts.

It is Panasonic who has embraced the idea of 3D the most. Not only is the company putting copious amounts of money into a 3D Blu-ray authoring lab, it's already put forward a 3D standard to the Blu-ray Disc Association – something which the BDA is looking into, but yet to make a decision.

It's interesting, then, that the first 3DTV the company announces doesn't need 3D media to work, with the telly converting high-def footage in real-time for the user.

3D hands-on

TechRadar was given an exclusive demo of the 103-inch Full HD 3D (FHD3D) set and was definitely impressed, but only up to a point.

The footage we saw included clips from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a football match, Disney's animated movie Bolt and some WWE wrestling.

The wrestling and the football lent themselves best to 3D. With the camera right in the middle of the action, the images popped out of the screen with no blur and felt vibrant and fresh.

The problems came with non-dynamic footage. Watching through Active Shutter glasses, there was a sense of depth, but if the camera wasn't in the thick of the action, then it rarely felt like true 3D.

3D without the specs

On LG's stand, the company had both 3D with and without the NHS-like specs. Watching 3D without glasses is just plain weird. LG utilises a lenticular screen which, unless you stand exactly at an optimal 4 metre distance, directly in the middle of the footage, the illusion of 3D simply doesn't work.

Viewing a short film about a burger (huh?) TechRadar had a headache and developed a squint. Who is to tell what ailments you would develop watching a 3D version of an epic like Gone With The Wind? Frankly, my dears, we don't give a damn.

Much more impressive was 3D PlayStation 3 (PS3D?). It was a bit cheeky just to show a non-playable demo of Gran Turismo 5 and Guitar Hero: World Tour, but the results were simply stunning. Using RealD technology, it seems that videogames really lend themselves to 3D viewing.

3D gaming

In fact, this is where 3D could work in the home. TechRadar was lucky enough to see two computer monitors compatible with 3D – one by Samsung and the other by ViewSonic.

The PCs ran Nvidia's new GeForce 3D graphics cards. While the images don't exactly pop out at you, depth perception is impressive. A go on World of Warcraft showed the game to be more immersive than ever before.

The best thing about these monitors is the price. With ViewSonic's 22in VX2265 nVidia 3D graphics card range retailing for under $400, it seems that the videogames industry is once again ahead of the curve when it comes to new-ish technology.

Perhaps the most entertaining way to watch 3D, however, was with MyVu's glasses. If you're going to have to wear 3D glasses, then you may as well wear some which make you look like Data from Star Trek.

Although MyVu still hasn't quite cracked total immersion with its glasses sets, the technology lends itself well to three-dimensional viewing.

With consumers still getting to grips with high-definition in the home, and many still trying to upgrade their analogue sets to cope with the digital switchover, 2009 will not be the year of 3D in the home – regardless of what the likes of Panasonic say.

Don't worry, though, as there will be plenty of CES's to come where the technology is peddled as the future of home entertainment – a future which still seems some way off.

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, Shortlist.com at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.