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Are consumers ready for 3-D TV?

A picture of a 3-D television is seen through 3-D glasses.

TEXT OF STORY

Bob Moon: There are plenty of new ways to watch video these days -- from YouTube on your computer to movies streamed straight to your shiny new iPad. Remember something called television? Actually, that's still the most popular way to watch video. TV reaches 90 percent of the planet, according to a new global survey out today from the folks at Nielsen. One interesting finding: Around 12 percent either own, or intend to buy, a new 3-D TV set within the next year. Provided, that is, that they can afford it.

Sally Herships has been looking at whether consumers are really ready to explore this new dimension.


Sally Herships: 3-D TV is here, but it's pricey. New sets start at $1,500 and go all the way to $6,000. And then there are the glasses. Just like at the movies, you'll need special specs to watch.

Paul Gagnon works at research firm Display Search.

Paul Gagnon: There are some issues associated with using glasses to view 3-D. You don't want to break 'em, you have to make sure they're recharged, you don't want to lose them.

A lot of 3-D sets come with two pairs of glasses. But if you want more, say for your kids, you'll have to pay -- about 140 bucks a pop. Gagnon says the holy grail of 3-D technology -- viewing without glasses -- won't arrive for about five years. For now, he says, consumers will probably put up with them. But, there's a bigger issue: There's just not that much to watch. Take movies available on Blu-Ray.

Gagnon: Let's see there's "Monsters vs Aliens," "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" from Sony and those are really the two big ones that are out right now.

And there's not much TV programming right now either, though that's starting to change. Still content in three dimensions may not come out fast enough or look good enough to keep consumers interested.

Sam Craig teaches marketing at NYU.

Sam Craig: It's a classic chicken-and-egg situation.

Craig says consumers won't buy without content. But producers won't make that content unless consumers buy. He says we've seen this problem before, like when color TV was introduced in the 1950s.

Vintage commercial: More then $225 million were spent to develop RCA's all-electronic, compatible colored television system.

Man singing in vintage commercial: Wow! I bought color TV. RCA Vinter color TV...

Craig: Most people had just bought black and white TVS.

And color technology wasn't yet perfected. Some people looked greenish on screen.

Craig: So people were a little bit reluctant to shell out a lot more money for an inferior technology.

And without a platform, broadcasters didn't want to invest in color content. Craig says until the technology got better and prices dropped, color TV didn't catch on.

So, will consumers react the same way to 3-D TV? To find out, I headed to the 3-D aisle of a local Best Buy. There was a nature documentary on.

Nature documentary: Yet here in McMudro Sound, life flourishes...

Sea urchins and red sea stars are shown undulating, in sped-up time lapse. Shopper Mike Gonzales is impressed, but not that impressed.

Herships: Would you buy?

Gonzales: It would have to be really enticing. Like, you know, if they gave me an extra TV set for the bathroom or something.

And fellow shopper Fred Jenkins said he's OK with the price of the TVs, but he just bought a new LED display. And besides, there's that whole glasses issue.

Fred Jenkins: Well, I guess just me and my girl will be watching the 3-D one. And when company come over, they'll just have to go in the back to the LED.

Most of the shoppers I talked to were just not willing to fork over that much cash. But industry analyst Paul Gagnon says customers are buying. He says this year almost three and a half million 3-D TVs will be sold worldwide. And he says prices will come down. By the holidays, sets should be available below $1,000.

I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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