This month marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship Titanic, as well as the re-rerelease of the film "Titanic." The movie by James Cameron, which grossed nearly $2 billion, is back today (April 4) with the addition of 3D, a technology that fueled his nearly $3-billion hit "Avatar."
It's an occasion to look back at this once-hyped and overpriced technology, which has now morphed into a more low-key and accessible form. For sure, some 3D is still an exotic toy — spawning $18 movie tickets and Cadillac home-theater bundles. But it's also trickling into cheaper TV setups and humbler devices, such as phones and cameras.
TVs capable of showing 3D content are still expensive. But it's really just a bonus that comes in sets with more compelling features, such as high-quality screens, slick design and Internet connections for accessing online video such as Netflix and audio such as Pandora, said Paul Semenza of analyst firm NPD DisplaySearch. Those will probably be your reasons to spend more for a set.
The cost of 3D itself is in the glasses. Most sets — from companies such as Panasonic and Samsung — use technology called active 3D, which requires clunky, battery-powered glasses that cost around $80 (or more) each. But TV makers LG and Vizio use a technology called passive 3D, which uses eyewear like the glasses you get in a movie theater, selling for about $12 apiece. (The tech still comes in only the high-end TVs, though, such as LG's 42-inch, $1,300 model 42LM6200.) And because these passive 3D sets already come with several pairs of glasses, there might not be any extra cost to using 3D.
Watching 3D Blu-ray movies also requires a special 3D player, such as the $150 Panasonic BDT220 (versus its $90 non-3D model). But several sets, including LG's passive and Samsung's active models, can also convert regular 2D content to 3D. The quality varies by the content, but it's a fun, free extra feature.
As with TVs, 3D is slipping in as an extra in higher-end cameras. You would probably buy models such as the Sony HX7V ($280) and Nikon S6300 ($200) for features such as 10X optical zoom, full HD video and panorama photography. But it so happens they also capture 3D photos (but not video) that you can display when you connect the cameras to a 3D-equipped set. On the Sony models, you can also see a 3D effect without glasses, simply by tilting the camera as you view images on the screen — a neat trick that doesn't cost a penny extra to enjoy.
Phones and game consoles
Oftentimes, the phone is your camera, and a few models throw in 3D, as well. The $50 LG Thrill smartphone from AT&T, for example, shoots and displays 3D photos and videos. And small screens like the Thrill's 4.3-inch display can show 3D images without glasses.
The $170 Nintendo 3DS is the original, mainstream 3D handheld. Like the LG Thrill, it can shoot 3D photos and videos and display them on its 3.5-inch screen without glasses. But Nintendo consoles are really about the games, such as the 3D "Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater."
Along for the ride
If you haven't already run out to get a 3D-capable TV, you're probably not going to buy a future TV, camera or cellphone just for that feature. Like Jack Dawson from "Titanic," 3D is just one of many passengers along for the ride. But unlike the real Titanic, 3D doesn't have to sink a fortune.
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