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3D? Just wait...

Every week Gizmodo and Engadget list off a new selection of 3D-ready HDTVs hitting the market, and the price is slowly starting to drop to where customers might actually consider buying them.

Every week Gizmodo and Engadget list off a new selection of 3D-ready HDTVs hitting the market, and the price is slowly starting to drop to where customers might actually consider buying them. Then, last week both Panasonic and Sony announced a new line of home tuners and DVRs, compatible with cable and satellite signals, that are capable of playing and recording 3D.

The Nintendo 3DS handheld gaming device, which doesn't require 3D glasses, will launch in September. And this week a company by the name of Rockchip showed off a 3D tablet PC that also won't require glasses.

Glasses for 3D TVs are expensive by comparison, and buying a single high-end pair can cost over $100. Buying glasses for the whole family can cost $500 or more, and if you want to have some extras so your buddies can watch sports in 3D then you have to buy more pairs.

Perhaps sensing that the glasses issue would be annoying to families, Toshiba announced a line of glasses-free 3D televisions which should hit stores sometime this year. But, being the first generation, consumers can expect the televisions to cost thousands of dollars.

The entertainment industry has obviously seized on 3D as the next big thing and is pouring millions of dollars into researching newer and better ways to deliver a 3D experience. (Money that could probably be better spent on delivering better entertainment rather than more crap that happens to be in HD and 3D - in my humble opinion.)

As exciting as all of this is, my advice to consumers is to wait. Don't rush in, because you'll probably regret it. Here's why:

Right now, the industry has not adopted an actual 3D standard for televisions or even a delivery system, so there's a chance you might end up with the wrong thing. Plus, there aren't a lot of channels broadcasting in 3D because of the bandwidth requirements, although that's slowly starting to change. Sports are driving the industry right now and the Discovery Channel and others are following suit. A growing number of movies are being created for 3D, or having 3D added in post-production.

But that's about it. The majority of shows and networks will continue to broadcast in 2D for a long, long time. Most of the time there's no point.

While I like the idea of being able to watch the occasional 3D movie from the couch there's really no point to making 3D like cooking shows and late night talk shows where things aren't flying out at you every five seconds.

The truth is that 3D is a sometimes headache- and nausea-inducing gimmick that only really works in a few situations (and doesn't work for all people), and the technology just doesn't have the market share right now to usher in a revolution.

Take gaming. The PS3 can now play a handful of 3D games (if you have a 3D HDTV), like Wipeout HD and Super Stardust HD. The Arkham Asylum special edition came with 3D glasses for both the PS3 and Xbox 360. Right now that's about it.

The fact is that game companies are already spending tens of millions of dollars to produce feature titles and adding 3D increases their development costs. Given that 3D television owners are a fraction of their market (probably less than one per cent right now) companies are not going to invest in making 3D content.

I believe the shift will happen someday, but it's not going to happen next week or even next year. Even by 2015 it's estimated that only seven per cent of American households will have 3D televisions, and just two per cent of the global market.

When should you buy in? When the industry decides on a format (glasses or no glasses, hardware or software rendering); the price for televisions is at least half of what it is now; the broadcast industry offers at least a dozen channels you would actually watch in 3D (at a price point that's reasonable); game companies are releasing all of their major titles in 3D; and 3D movies become the rule rather than the exception for Hollywood. Then, and only then, should you invest.


Make calls from Google

It's kind of like Skype (but with lower sound quality) but there's something incredibly useful about the new service launched by Google last week.

If you have a Gmail account, you can now call people - for free inside North America and for a small fee (two cents a minute) internationally. You don't need a traditional phone, you just use your headset or the mic and speakers on your computer to make calls.

The best part? The service also works with Google Android phones, offering free calls anywhere you can get WiFi... airports, coffee shops, workplaces, homes...

Eventually Google will start to monetize the system and charge for all long distance, but they have said that it will be completely free until the end of the year. And if they're charging two cents a minute to call Europe, Africa, Asia, etc. then it's a safe bet that whatever pay structure they come up with is going to be a lot cheaper than you're currently paying.