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Checking out Sony's 3D TV

Wed, 03 Mar 2010

[UPDATE II:  A couple of readers have asked about a Sony 3D TV's ability to upscale 2D "normal" content to 3D, when coupled with a firmware-upgraded PS3. A Sony rep confirmed today the company's 3D setup does support such upscaling, but said "the quality couldn't be guaranteed". He compared it to DVD to HD upscaling. He didn't say it, but I would have added - ugh.]

[UPDATE: After the Rugby World Cup free-to-air rights announcement, I had the chance to ask Sky TV chief executive John Fellet whether he would consider taking Sony's 3D footage of the soccer World Cup later this. As expected, he said it was very unlikely. The installed base just won't be there. Mr Fellet was expecting the first 3D TVs to go onsale during June.]

This morning I had a chance to check out Sony's new Bravia 3D TV.

3D tellies were all the rage at CES this year, with Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, LG and Toshiba, among others, previewing models.

Now, Sony is among the first to stage a commercial worldwide release - and certainly seems set to be the first to release a model in NZ.

Sony NZ MD Martin McManus said this morning to expect models on sale "this winter", available in 46-inch and 52-inch models (pictured above). 

Pricing has yet to be announced.

From next month, you'll be able to see them in Sony showrooms in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

As with other brands this generation of 3D tellies, you have to wear a pair of special glasses to get the 3D effect.

It's still not decided how many pairs will be bundled with each 3D TV.

Sony's glasses are smaller than those handed out at Avatar screenings here, and look more like a pair of jumped up sunglasses.

I found them fine, comfort wise, but blogger Ben Gracewood, who also at the session, told me he was conscious of the 3D googles over his regular glasses even after just a few minutes.

So how did it look?

A 3D version of the the cartoon movie "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" did look spectacular in 3D, though I (and Ben) found the picture flickered a little.

Angle of viewability was so-so.

Beyond that, the picture looked very good, but still below the quality you may have recently seen with Avatar on the big screen (no real surprise there given the years smoothing the edges of James Cameron's movie, and the fact we're dealing with living room technology).

But it did surprise me that there was any flicker; albeit only a hint.

Sony's glasses have a refresh rate of 200MHz (100MHz for each lens), which is apparently double that of previous incarnations of the technology. The 3D illusion is created by the image rapidly shifting between lenses, fast enough to fool your brain (slower refresh rates were blamed for the nausea some feel after prolonged exposure to 3D).

Last year, 5 of the top 10 movies were filmed in 3D, and a total of 20 titles in total - although kids fair does dominate.

To help kick along content, Sony will film selected games in this year's soccer World Cup in 3D.

ESPN in the US and an un-named European partner will run special 3D broadcasts alongside their regular coverage.

Sony New Zealand has had some preliminary talks with Sky TV, but seems to be now serious expectations that the pay TV monopolist will stretch to 3D coverage.

And even if most movies and (at some far future time) TV programmes were available in 3D, personally I find it tiring.

Sony showed some sample soccer coverage today - taken at the Confederations Cup. 

When the action was relatively static, it looked glorious. But when there's rapid movement, it get gets harder to follow the onscreen gyrations.

Not everybody will take to it, and many broadcasters will be cheap to film many events in 3D, especially as the installed base of 3D TVs remains low - as it surely will for at least several years.

But never fear.

Sony does have a killer app.

You can play special 3D versions of Blu-ray discs, or 3D games, via firmware upgrades to a Sony PlayStation3 console (that is software upgrades to your existing box).

A preview of a 3D version of KillZone 2 looked simply stunning. It's very easy to see immersive  gaming taking off, prompting a boom in 3D TV sales (assuming the their price is in Earth orbit).

However, Sony and other games publishers have yet to announce any release dates for 3D TV compatible games.

During a recent interview, Peter Jackson and James Cameron speculated that 3D TV won't go mainstream until sets are available that don't require goggles. That may be a half-decade away.

I've previewed a 3D TV at Auckland technology cluster Nextspace that didn't require googles (it consisted of a Philips display with a proprietary screen attached). Its key drawback was angle of viewability - unless you were bang in front, the 3D effect disappeared. 

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Checking out Sony's 3D TV
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