I admit it—I own a 3DTV. Well, to be more accurate, I bought a Samsung HDTV with the right blend of features and price that just happened to also have 3D support. But like many people who’ve made such a purchase, I haven’t even taken the glasses out of the box.
3DGo, an on-demand streaming 3D movie service that has been quietly chugging away over the past few months, may actually make me reconsider my 3D neglect. The service, which is currently available only on Vizio 3DTVs, carries about 50 movies from the likes of Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, Paramount, and National Geographic. Current titles include Monsters, Inc., Captain America: The First Avenger, Cars 2, Wreck-It Ralph, Tron: Legacy, Thor, the Toy Story trilogy, and even Top Gun (yes, thatTop Gun). Iron Man 3 will soon join that list. The service also offers Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, but I’ve decided not to hold that against it.
I had a chance to go eyes-on with 3DGo during a private demo at San Francisco’s Wingtip Club, and was pretty impressed with what I saw using an M-Series Vizio TV, a pair of 3D glasses, and a fairly pedestrian Internet connection.
Watching parts from several live-action and animated films, the quality of 3DGo’s streaming pretty evenly matched with demos of Blu-ray-based 3D content I’ve seen at CES and other places. I couldn’t see any noticeable macroblocking or other problems common with motion and transitions on streaming content. The user interface is pretty basic—a 1.0 design, by the company’s own admission—but with a relatively small catalog to navigate through, that didn’t seem like a big problem right now.
3DGo movies are rental-based, at $6 to $8 a pop, and like other video-on-demand services, you can watch a movie as many times as you want within 24 hours. New customers get a free movie when they sign up.
Instead of sending separate streams for the left and right eye, 3DGo transmits a single stream that gets decoded to stereoscopic 3D on the receiving end. That means 3DGo can deliver full resolution 3D in the same bandwidth as 2D—roughly 4 mbps to 6 mbps works. How? The company behind 3DGo, Sensio Technologies, has spent more than a decade developing 3D technologies, and its Hi-Fi 3D format is pretty darn efficient. To get the best results, the company even requests the raw left and right channels from movie studios (rather than the master file) to combine them properly and make sure frames match up.
The benefit of a service like 3DGo is that you don’t need to buy a 3D Blu-ray player and expensive 3D movies (although if they’re meant for the kids, you’ll probably save money in the long run versus renting every time). If your TV supports the service, it’s just like having Netflix or any other on-demand option that you use when you want.
The biggest problem with the service right now is compatibility: As mentioned, it currently only runs as an app on Vizio TVs (and only in the U.S.). But the company just signed a deal with Panasonic to bring 3DGo to its 3DTVs, and is also talking with Samsung (which means I’ll have to wait a while to show it off to my kids). And when I asked about expanding beyond TV, the company said it was looking at the likes of Roku, PlayStation, and Xbox as logical extensions. The biggest problem there, however, is the need for on-board hardware that can decode the processor-intense Hi-Fi 3D format.
With recent announcements from ESPN and others about abandoning—or at least tabling—3D content, the idea of such a service gave me pause. But with the built-in nature, easy setup and rental, and actual desirable content, 3DGo makes a lot of sense.
3DGo isn’t the only service offering on-demand 3D. Vudu offers a bunch of 3D movies of varying caliber, but mostly available only as $30-plus purchases and not as rentals. 3DGo prides itself on carrying large studio releases and professional-level nature documentaries. And the technology behind the service is impressive. What will make or break it is getting on more devices and building a larger catalog so people keep coming back.