WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- Remember two years ago at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas when 3-D was everywhere and the general consensus was that we'd all be switching out TVs, wearing glasses and watching Avatar on repeat in our living rooms? Yeah, about that ...
In mid-2010, market research firm NPD Group's screen-oriented subsidiary DisplaySearch predicted 3.4 million 3-D TVs would ship by the end of last year and grow to 42.9 million worldwide by 2014, increasing 3-D's share of the television market to 37% from 5%. A few months later, those forecasts shrank to 3.2 million 3-D TVs shipped during the year, making up just 2% of the television market.
A big part of the problem is North America and the U.S. in particular, where estimates of more than 2 million 3-D TVs sold in 2010 shrank to less than 1.6 million behind a familiar refrain: It's just too expensive and unnecessary, given the relative dearth of 3-D content. Americans spent the past half-decade upgrading to HDTV and, despite releases such as this summer's Thor and Green Lantern also getting HD versions, the lack of true 3-D titles means those copies of Avatar, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs and Monsters vs. Aliens are being crowded between converted 2-D titles such as Disney's The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.
"While TV manufacturers have bold plans and a lot of new products, consumers remain cautious," says Paul Gray, DisplaySearch's director of TV electronics research. "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."Even as some of the earliest 3-D televisions drop below the $1,000 mark, the $100 to $150 cost of glasses to watch what's on them has been prohibitive for some consumers. This isn't a strictly American complaint; DisplaySearch discovered that Western Europeans aren't even hitting a 1-to-1 ratio of glasses to 3-D sets. "This is particularly disappointing," Gray says. "A healthy level would be closer to two pairs of 3-D glasses per TV, so it's clear that these sets at best are being chosen for future-proofing, and at worst it's an indication that consumers cannot buy a premium set without 3-D." Looking at 3-D as a strictly televised medium may not be helping. Earlier this week, Nielsen said that the percentage of Americans who own television sets has dropped for the first time in 20 years from 98.9% to 96.7%. While the digital transition has taken TV out of the living rooms of the poor in some cases, it's also inspired a generation that's content with viewing entertainment on laptops, tablets, smartphones and other devices. If 3-D's going to take off, it's going to need a lot more than televisions and Blu-ray players to do so. "TV manufacturers strongly believe in 3-D and are driving its cost downward, but its value to consumers relies strongly on the availability of quality material to watch," Gray says. TheStreet took a look at the electronics market and, amid many high-priced options, found five 3-D devices that are worth a consumer investment right now. While some are TV based, the majority make a strong argument for a multidimensional approach to 3-D entertainment: