Samsung, Panasonic Go 3-D, Will Consumers Join Them?

TV makers Samsung and Panasonic makers unveil 3-D TVs this week.

March 8, 2010, 4:36 PM

March 9, 2010— -- If you want a taste of technology's latest trend, make friends with a Jonathan Duffy.

When the first 3-D TVs hit the market – even if the highly-hyped 3-D channels, 3-D broadcasts and 3-D Blu-ray discs aren't yet available to accompany them – the 28-year-old from Irving, Tex. says he plans to bring one home.

Given the lack of content and the cost (not to mention, the unfamiliar glasses), some might call it brave to lead the way into TV's third dimension. But Duffy said that, for him, this is nothing more than business as usual.

"I pretty much am the first person to get the latest tech stuff," he said. "I was the first person to get a PS3 [PlayStation 3] and make the Blu-ray switch. This is the next step for me."

The instant he learned that 3-D TVs were on their way Duffy, a supervisor forTime-Warner Cable, said he started doing his research and readying his credit card. When he recently took a 3-D TV for a test drive at a local Sony Style store, he said he was impressed.

"I was amazed at how great the 3-D appeared and flowed with you as you moved across the room. It surpassed all my expectations," he said. "I did see "Avatar" and I have just seen "Alice in Wonderland."… I really look forward to being able to watch those at my home."

After much anticipation, this week, TV makers Samsung and Panasonic are expected to officially unveil their new 3-D capable television sets. (3-D capable means the TVs can display 2-D TV shows and movies but, with the necessary accessories, could also display 3-D movies, sports broadcasts and other content.)

Though two Samsung 3-D TVs have been available on Amazon and through Sears for the past couple of weeks, the company's official U.S. launch is today. Panasonic will make their official 3-D push Wednesday. Other TV manufacturers, such as Sony, LG and Vizio, are expected to be hot on their heels.

But recent consumer research shows that 3-D early adopters like Duffy are few and far between.

According to a February report from research firm NPD Group, while consumers say they're interested in 3-D TVs, most aren't interested enough to bring them into their living rooms.

Research: 3-D Cost, Convenience and Content Are Concerns for Customers

About a third of consumers were "somewhat interested" in having 3-D-ready TV, but indicated that cost, content, availability and convenience were major obstacles to adoption.

More than 60 percent of consumers surveyed said they were concerned about the cost of a 3-D TV and the cost of getting 3-D content for their TV. About 39 percent said the limited amount of available content was another concern.And then there are the glasses. For 53 percent of consumers, the inconvenience of the 3-D glasses was yet another obstacle.

But Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis at NPD and a columnist, said the adoption of 3-D TVs could resemble the adoption of HDTVs.

"Consumers will have to accept that the glasses are just kind of a reality of the technological development at this point," he said. "They do provide a convincing 3-D experience in terms of what consumers have come to expect from modern digital cinema 3-D."

While HD adoption was helped by a federal mandate to switch to digital television and a form factor change to the flat-panel TV, he said 3-D TV "enhances the TV experience for certain kinds of content.

"It follows in the long history of technology and entertainment experiences that have been pioneered in the theater that people want to bring home," he said.

And though there will be minimal 3-D content initially available, he said there will likely be more than there was in the early days of HDTV.

Firm dates have not yet been disclosed but, in January, Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN announced that it will broadcast a minimum of 85 live sporting events in 3-D this year, including this summer's World Cup. Discovery unveiled an alliance with Sony and IMAX to deliver a 24-hour 3-D nature channel.

DirecTV and Panasonic also said that, starting in June 2010, DirecTV HD customers will be able to receive a free upgrade to receive three 3-D-only channels.

Market search and consulting firm DisplaySearch recently projected that 1.2 million 3-D-capable TVs will ship in 2010, with 15.6 million units shipping in 2013. North America is expected to comprise about half of 2010 shipments.

Price Tags for 3-D TVs Don't Tell Whole Story

Rubin said he expects adoption to take off as the price between 3-D-ready TVs and their non-3-D counterparts shrinks.

Through Amazon and Sears, Samsung's 3-D-capable TVs sell for $2,600 and $3,300 for 46-inch and 55-inch sets respectively. Analysts say that's about 20 percent more than their similar non-3-D TVs. According to a Monday Reuters report, Panasonic's 3-D TVs is expected to cost $2,500 for a 50-inch unit.

While these prices aren't as high as some feared, consumer electronics experts say these price tags don't tell the whole story.

Jim Wilcox, a senior editor for electronics and technology at Consumer Reports, said the newest 3-D TVs to hit the market, like Panasonic's new unit, are the flagship models.

"It's not the mainstream product that they're looking to sell in mass merchants," he said, adding that the newest 3-D TVs are premium models with the added 3-D feature. "It's not a Wal-Mart product, it's a Best Buy product."

He also said that these costs don't necessarily include the price of glasses or other pieces of the 3-D puzzle, such as a new Blu-ray player.

In addition to selling 3-D TVs on their own, Samsung today announced a promotional starter kit that will include a 3-D TV, a 3-D Blu-ray player and a 3-D version of DreamWorks Animation's "Monsters vs. Aliens" for prices starting at about $3,000 for the 46-inch TV. Other manufacturers may only sell the necessary 3-D accessories separately.

"You're not just going to spring $2,500 for the TV, you could have another $500 or more of investments to really use that TV," he said. "I think the people going out and immediately buying these are the early adopters who wanted the latest technology and understand how that curve works, or they're people who want to future-proof themselves."

Still, for retailers eager to increase foot traffic, 3-D TVs are already starting lure customers.

Karen Austin, president of home electronics for Sears, said the lack of content isn't stopping early adopters from inquiring about 3-D TVs at locations across the country.

"They are starting to trickle into the stores already," she said. For the past couple of weeks, customers have been able to purchase the Samsung 3-D TVs online and, as of March 21, they'll be in stores nationwide.

Who Wants 3-D Bragging Rights?

To help educate consumers about 3-D TVs, Sears plans to set up 3-D experiences in stores in the next couple of weeks, she said.

"I think that just like when we converted to HD, there will definitely be an interest from customers wanting to come in and see what it's like," she said.

But some analysts say that consumer curiosity may not translate into consumption for a while.

"The reality is, at this point, if you purchase you're doing so preemptively," said Scott Steinberg, CEO of media consulting and analysis firm TechSavvy Global. "We don't have 3-D content in any sizeable chunk that would justify anywhere near the expense it would cost early adopters just for the bragging rights to be able to say 'Hey, I've got one of the first 3-D TVs.'"

At this point, he said, the newest 3-D TVs are meant to seed the marketplace and get people buzzing.

"This is more of a conversation started than it is a practical household item," he said. "It's too early to decide 3-D's fate."

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