BY: Leo Petaccia

Rewind time about a year and a half.

It’s CES 2010 in Las Vegas and once again, the desert is under siege by every geek army of the tech industry and press. E-readers take a giant leap toward relevance with the Plastic Logic Q and Kindle DX, while shiny new tablets turn heads, as HP, Dell and Lenovo roll out their best attempts at iPad slayers respectively. The lion’s share of attention, however, goes to 3D TV.

Prototypes from every major player get lauded as the biggest of tomorrow's big toys. They promise that viewers aren't only ready to have virtual things fly at them, they want it — and at home, too.

Today paints a strangely different picture for 3D TV, considering sales haven’t exactly soared since its grand entrance to the market. Why? Well, for one, there’s the whole headache-inducing bit, (even though companies like LG and Sony have tried to address this with their Cinema 3D TVs, which project an improved “flicker free” picture). And lest we forget the discomfort in having to wear those wretched goggles to enjoy our time, the absurdity in expecting guests to bring their own and an obvious dearth in 3D content. Plus, except for Michael Bay explosion porn and maybe sports, nobody wants to watch shit like Chuck's Day Off in the third dimension.

Connected TV, this year’s CES hit, suggests a slightly more plausible scenario for watching television in the 21st century. Here’s the big reason why: Smart TV (think enlarged tablets and set-top boxes that integrate cable, satellite and digital content) represent a larger cultural transition that we’re already making. For example, if you’ve got a Playstation 3, you’ve got Netflix and a custom browser powered by Google, with YouTube, Flickr and more social media to play with. Apple TV and Google TV also blur the line between traditional TV and the Internet, offering digital movies and shows at a price, though the latter is still only available exclusively to the Yanks (for now, anyway). Hell, even linking your Macbook to your plasma is practically the same idea, and to most technophiles, this is so 2009.

If you need more proof of the connected invasion, recently, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission stated that as of this past March, Netflix accounts for 13.5 per cent of all downstream Internet traffic during peak hours, and a fair chunk of that Netflix access was via TV screens. Sure, the company’s Canadian content selection is miserable, but they’re working on beefing up their titles list. And CinemaNow, Best Buy’s American Internet download service (yes, it’ll have new releases) is landing north of the border come fall 2011 at a Future Shop near you.

According to Future Shop’s stats, LG Smart boxes (essentially media streamers that turn your regular old high-def set into a connected one), sell at the same unit volume as DVD players, and they’re projecting them to catch up to Blu-ray player sales within 16 to 18 months. Don’t forget, this doesn’t include the amount of time some of us spend devouring Deadliest Warrior reruns on our iPhones.

Make no mistake, whether you’re talking tablets, smartphones or now — TVs, the age of the App is already here and so far, Canadians like watching what they want, whenever they want.

Hold on, though. It would seem 3D TV isn’t down for the count. A few weeks ago, we told you about Sony’s curious new 3D package deal announced at E3 — a 24-inch 3D monitor, an HDMI cable, a pair of active shutter glasses and Resistance 3, all for $499.00. While the price (and lack of Playstation-themed barf bags) doesn’t inspire faith, the prospect of 3D gaming taking off isn’t that impractical. But then again, video games are a different animal altogether. Still, there’s little evidence the niche is picking up steam.

What’s more, Samsung released a “Smart 3D TV” last month that lets users access 3D content via the Internet. They call it the D8000 LED TV, and at a stately 55-inches, it’ll run you $3,499.00. Steep, yes, but according to Future Shop director of home theatre, Eric Stockner, these kinds of sets should get cheaper the more time passes, as will 3D TVs, so long as movie studios and TV networks keep producing 3D content. A couple of weeks ago, L.A.-based Digital Entertainment Group had market research outfit SmithGeiger find out if people love their 3D TV, to which the people responded with a big “Yes.” It’s among the most positive of signs to come out on the topic thus far, but don’t forget: DEG is the same organization that promotes CES products — like 3D TV. Also, the survey was based on fist-hand experiences, not sales.

So here’s the kicker: Is connected TV the better alternative? And if the two end up melding for good, which will have claimed top billing, the “Smart” or the “3D?”  As technologies, the two remain frustratingly incomparable, simply because 3D is a technological feature still facing challenges, while Smart TV continues to ride a wave of desire to aggregate our digital lives.

For now, we’ll just have to sit tight. But one thing’s for sure: when the idiot box does finally smarten up, it probably won’t have much to do with the third dimension.

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