Would You Watch TV in 3D?


On my living room couch Sunday, glued to an all-start TV line-up of football, the Emmy Awards and a Tom Cruise marathon on TBS, I couldn't help but wonder to myself that something was missing. It wasn't popcorn. It wasn't beer. And it sure as heck wasn't Tom Cruise. Was it ... The Third Dimension?

Television makers certainly hope so. Experts expect 3-D television to hit the market in 2010, and companies like Sony and Panasonic are already just months away from rolling out their own 3-D boob tubes.

Josh Levin nailed it! From his article on 3-D TV in last year's Atlantic magazine:

Like a headache-inducing cicada, 3-D programming shows up on television about once a decade, only to disappear and be forgotten until whenever it appears again. Twelve years ago, NBC and ABC treated America to 3-D episodes of shows like 3rd Rock From the Sun and Coach; America reported back that Coach already had two dimensions too many.

But this year's 3-D fodder might augur a new era. For one thing, 3-D movies appear primed to transition from a curiosity to a cultural norm, so long as Hollywood and the theater chains find the cash to build more usable screens, now at about 1,700. Starting this year, Jeffrey Katzenberg's DreamWorks will release all of its features in three dimensions, as will Disney's Pixar.

And now CNN reports that consumers should be able to buy 3-D TVs in Best Buy's within months -- provided they're (1) Willing to pay the price for a much more expensive set and (2) Willing to pay the social price for watching TV with glasses for the rest of their life.

Specifics are yet scant, but logistically there will be some draw-backs. The big black 3-D glasses, which you can check out in this CNN video, look like the wrap-arounds you might expect to see hugging the faces of elderly folks in a Florida retirement community. It's going to be difficult for the 18-34 crowd to, you know, wear their sunglasses at night so they can -- so they can --  watch 3-D TV without feeling awkward or at least cracking a very obvious joke (see: this sentence).

Also, the content for 3-D TV has to be produced for three dimensions. After all, you can't just put on your shades and expect Heidi Klum to leap toward your couch (although you could be forgiven for wishing it). ESPN has given 3-D broadcasting a shot. So have some commercials. But you're not going to buy something as ostentatious as a three-dimensional television set unless you expect to reap the rewards on a fairly consistent basis, and not just during major sporting events and random Lizard commercials.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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