Ralph Kramden can finally buy a television.
It was more than half a century ago, in a 1955 episode of “The Honeymooners,” that Kramden, the parsimonious bus driver played by Jackie Gleason, told his wife, Alice, that he had not yet bought a new television because “I’m waiting for 3-D.”
The wait will soon be over. A full-fledged 3-D television turf war is brewing in the United States, as manufacturers unveil sets capable of 3-D and cable programmers rush to create new channels for them.
Many people are skeptical that consumers will suddenly pull their LCD and plasma televisions off the wall. Beginning at around $2,000, the 3-D sets will, at first, cost more than even the current crop of high-end flat-screens, and buyers will need special glasses — geeky goggles, really — to watch in 3-D.
But programmers and technology companies are betting that consumers are almost ready to fall in love with television in the third dimension. In part, it could be the “Avatar” effect: With 3-D films gaining traction at the box office — James Cameron’s “Avatar” surpassed the staggering $1 billion mark last weekend — companies are now determined to bring an equivalent experience to the living room.
Anticipating this coming wave, ESPN said Tuesday that it would show World Cup soccer matches and NBA games in 3-D on a new network starting in June, and Discovery, Imax and Sony said they would jointly create a 3-D entertainment channel next year. The satellite service DirecTV is expected to announce its own 3-D channels at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where every major television manufacturer is planning to announce 3-D televisions and compatible Blu-ray DVD players on Wednesday.
“The stars are aligning to make 2010 the launch year of 3-D,” said John Taylor, a vice president for LG Electronics USA. “It’s still just in its infancy, but when there is a sufficient amount of content available — and lots of people are working on this — there will be a true tipping point for consumers.”
At that point, the question becomes whether consumers — many of whom have only recently upgraded to costly new high-definition sets — will want to watch in three dimensions enough to pay for the privilege. “I think 90 percent of the males in this country would be dying to watch the Super Bowl and be immersed in it,” said Riddhi Patel, an analyst at the research firm iSuppli.
But will the experience translate to other entertainment? Patel said, “You don’t necessarily want the ladies of ‘The View’ sitting around you when you watch them.”
This week, the media companies are trying to place themselves at the forefront of an emerging technology, much as they did for HDTV a decade ago.
It took high-definition television about a decade to catch on — to the point where it has become part of the entertainment mainstream, with a sufficient stock of HD programming and the sets now cheap enough to entice middle-class buyers.