Makers of big-screen televisions risk confusing shoppers with competing 3-D TV formats at a time when the higher-priced sets have been slow to catch on.
LG Electronics Inc., the world’s third-largest maker of liquid-crystal display sets, said yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that it will offer large models using 3-D glasses like those in cinemas, joining Vizio Inc., the second-largest U.S.-based maker. On Jan. 4, Toshiba Corp. said it will sell sets that don’t use glasses starting midyear.
The dueling formats may complicate efforts by manufacturers and retailers to win over shoppers. In addition to format confusion, 3-D buyers are faced with higher prices, including glasses that can cost $150, and concerns about the availability of shows and movies to watch in three dimensions.
“While TV manufacturers have bold plans and a lot of new products, consumers remain cautious,” said Paul Gray, director of TV Electronics Research for DisplaySearch, a Santa Clara, California-based industry researcher. “Consumers have been told that 3-D TV is the future, but there still remains a huge price jump and little 3-D content to watch.”
DisplaySearch estimates 3.2 million 3-D TVs were shipped worldwide last year, and projects the total will reach more than 90 million in 2014. That suggests 3-D will expand to 41 percent of all flat-panel shipments from 2 percent in 2010.
The companies are ditching the stereoscopic 3-D standard used in first-generation sets sold starting in 2010. Those require active-shutter, or battery-powered, glasses to combine images into the 3-D effect. Customers complained about the $100 to $150 price and weight of such glasses, said Matthew McRae, chief technology officer of Irvine, California-based Vizio.
“We heard they were uncomfortable, they were heavy, they had to be recharged,” McRae said. “As a mass consumer product, it clearly was not the right technology.”
Vizio will include four pairs of the lighter, cinema-style glasses with each TV, McRae said.
Samsung Electronics Co., the world’s largest maker of televisions, plans to stick with active-shutter glasses this year, the company said yesterday in Las Vegas. The Suwon, South Korea-based manufacturer introduced a new 3-D glasses design that weighs less than a pound and creates a lighter picture.
Masaru Kato, Sony Corp.’s chief financial officer, said in October that sales of 3-D sets, projected to account for 10 percent of the Tokyo-based company’s 25 million annual TV sales target, were trailing previous expectations.
Manufacturers may have overhyped 3-D, said Mike Fasulo, chief marketing officer of Sony Electronics. Early adopters found scant 3-D content to watch and some complained of headaches caused by image flickering, he said.
Sony plans to exhibit glasses-free 3-D TVs in Las Vegas in both LCD and organic light-emitting diode models, Hiroshi Yoshioka, an executive deputy president, said yesterday.
In 2010, Sony, cable TV programmer Discovery Communications Inc. and Imax Corp., the operator of large-screen theaters, announced plans for a 3-D network called 3net to start this year. Hollywood studios and other content providers also are expected to release additional Blu-ray titles in 3-D. Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN 3D plans to expand its programming to 24 hours a day next month, the company announced yesterday in Las Vegas.
Consumers may initially be confused by the different types of 3-D sets available, said Skott Ahn, chief technology officer for Seoul-based LG Electronics.
“We’re trying to remove technical barriers and make the price of 3-D more reasonable,” Ahn said in an interview.
Chinese television manufacturers, Vizio and others are using technology that is similar to LG’s, which should shorten the format war, said Havis Kwon, president of LG Electronics Home Entertainment.
“The market will move toward the solution that best answers the needs of the consumer,” Kwon said.
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