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3-D TV shipments to reach 90 million, but do consumers really want 3-D?

A total of 3.2 million 3-D TVs will be shipped worldwide this year, and by 2014 that number will swell to 90 million, according to the latest report from DisplaySearch.

Part of the display industry analyst's "Quarterly TV Design and Features Report" for the third quarter of 2010, the rosy forecast comes despite limited consumer uptake of 3-D TVs from retailers. "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," said Paul Gray, director of TV electronics research for DisplaySearch.

In North America, consumers have learned from their recent experience of buying flat-panel HDTVs to delay purchases and wait for more favorable pricing. "Set makers have trained consumers to expect rapid price falls for new technology, and consumers seem happy to wait a little," said Paul Gagnon, director of North American TV research. In North America, nearly 1.6 million 3-D TVs will be shipped this year, according to DisplaySearch.

While consumers remain cautious, set manufacturers are determined to develop 3-D as a feature. In fact, DisplaySearch identified quickly expanding 3-D product launches and price trends as two major reasons to revise its 2014 projection upward.

A nagging question remains: Will consumers buy 3-D TVs because they want to watch 3-D programming or simply because it increasingly will become a standard feature on many flat-panel TVs?

One indication will likely be sales of 3-D glasses. Presumably, if shoppers purchased a 3-D TV to enjoy stereoscopic programming, they would need 3-D glasses. According to the latest DisplaySearch report, sales of such glasses remain low in Western Europe, where there has not even been a 1:1 sale of glasses to sets.

"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," Gray said.