3-D TV sets are selling, but no instant craze

Barely settled into their first home together, Arman Galstyan and Carolyn Kaloostian were itching to buy a new television to go along with it.

But the Glendale couple were not about to settle for just any big-screen, HD flat-panel.

It had to be 3-D.

“We had been wanting to get it, and when we heard they came out, we didn’t even let a chance for competition to bring the prices down,” said Kaloostian, 27, as her fiance paid the cashier at a Best Buy in Los Angeles.

“We just wanted to get the newest thing out,” she said.

That’s just what television manufacturers, who began rolling out a new generation of 3-D-capable sets amid much hype early this year, want to hear.

But the first sales figures on 3-D TVs and a newly released consumer survey indicate that the industry has a long way to go before the new technology catches on in a big way, if it ever does.

In the sets’ first three months on the market, beginning in February, consumers nationwide spent about $55 million on new 3-D-capable TVs and related equipment, according to an NPD Group survey of some of the largest retailers carrying the products, including Best Buy and

Paul Gagnon, an analyst with DisplaySearch, calculated that based on the NPD figures, about 20,000 of the flat-panel sets were sold by those major retailers.

That’s a tiny number compared with the approximately 7 million TV sets overall that were shipped to retailers around that time frame, according to the Consumer Electronics Assn. trade group.

And a Parks Associates study released Thursday showed that despite the success of several recent 3-D movies, awareness of the home technology is middling, even in the tech-savvy 18-to-34 age group.

“We don’t see a large percentage of people going out of their way to go buy a new TV just because of 3-D,” said Parks analyst Pietro Macchiarella.

He and other analysts say the slow going was to be expected — especially considering that the only major manufacturers with the new generation of 3-D sets available in the period were Samsung and Panasonic. Parks forecasts that sales will shoot upward as more manufacturers get sets to market. In 2014, the firm estimated, 80% of all TVs sold will be 3-D capable.

But Macchiarella had not expected only 13% of the people surveyed this quarter to describe themselves as “familiar” with 3-D TV.

“I think it’s a little bit of a surprise,” Macchiarella said.

Despite the hype, only a tiny amount of 3-D content has been available for the home screen. That’s changing, slowly — currently, World Cup soccer matches can be viewed in 3-D by DirecTV and Comcast cable subscribers.

Macchiarella said the matches could up the awareness of 3-D. “Maybe in the next study we’ll get better data,” he said.

Sports could be a key factor for many consumers.

“It’ll be cool to have basketball in 3-D,” said George Preciado, 33, a Los Angeles resident who said he has made four trips to different stores to look at sets.

He’s also a gamer, which could make him a more likely candidate to buy a set as more video games in the format become available.

“It’s going to add a tremendous amount to the gaming experience,” said Bill Hunt, the Irvine-based editor of The Digital Bits, a blog about TV technology.

Gamers, Hunt said, are often big spenders, which is lucky because 3-D-capable sets are sold at premium prices. Gagnon of DisplaySearch said the average is about $2,500.

Aaron Swarvar, 29, of Vernon Hills, Ill., bought a Samsung 3-D capable set this month and said the need for glasses was one of the only downsides. The TV came with two pairs, and extras will cost him $100 apiece.

He also says he’s been experiencing some of the eye discomfort that has long been associated with watching 3-D movies in theaters.

“It’s straining to watch for a prolonged period of time,” Swarvar said.

A study this year at UC Berkeley indicated that the problems — which also include blurred vision and headaches — could be worse at home than in theaters.

“The issue arises more with TVs because the distance is closer than at a theater,” said Martin Banks, a professor who conducted the study with 17 subjects.

But he said the problems go away shortly after a viewer stops watching 3-D. “We don’t know of anyone who’s had of any consequences that’s lasted more than a handful of minutes,” Banks said.

Movses Ambarthian, a Best Buy salesman, said eye strain is an issue for some customers. “We do get people asking about that,” he said. But that doesn’t keep people from making themselves comfortable on the sofas and chairs in the high-end section of the store to watch 3-D, sometimes for extended periods.

That seemed OK with Ambarthian, who acknowledged that springing for the new technology is a big decision for buyers.

“This experience,” Ambarthian said, “it takes a long time.”