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LG’s G-Tablet: 3D grail or gimmick?

3D was the home entertainment industry’s big push for 2010, and it’s not giving up in 2011 either. CES 2011 saw the usual array of ever-larger HDTVs offering active and passive 3D playback options, and some manufacturers suggest this year will mark the tipping point for 2D/3D balance in their ranges. It’s not only big screens, either; at the tiny end of the scale, gadgets like the Nintendo 3DS and various 3D cameras and camcorders promise fun in the third-dimension. Now LG has confirmed that the LG G-Tablet, the company’s freshly-detailed 8.9-inch Android 3.0 Honeycomb slate, will support not only 3D video capture via a pair of cameras on the back, but on-device 3D playback too. Question is, will the need for special glasses turn off would-be 3D tableteers?

Rather than using an auto-stereoscopic panel, as on the 3DS, LG’s 8.9-inch G-Tablet display is too large for such image trickery to comfortably – and affordably – work. Instead, it uses a regular display and then relies on glasses to bring the 3D to life. It’s a new strategy among Android tablets – or, indeed, tablets in general – and it certainly helps to differentiate LG’s spec sheet among the growing list of rivals like Motorola’s XOOM.
Now, 3D HDTV owners are used to glasses, as are those who’ve made the trek to their nearest 3D cinema or IMAX. The concept of sitting through a two hour film while wearing a pair (or two pairs, if you’re already a specs-wearer) isn’t foreign, though even the experts argue about how much value 3D adds. Wearing glasses at home is one thing – you know where they are each time, and you don’t have to navigate anything other than your remote control – but a mobility device like a tablet is a very different story.
Recommending that G-Tablet users take their 3D glasses out with them while they’re mobile with the slate doesn’t look likely to catch on. Yes, for the first few times you might make sure they’re in your pocket or bag, just in case you can grab ten minutes for a 3D film on the bus, or in case your friends and colleagues want an impromptu demo, but afterwards they’re likely to be just another one of those accessories you leave at home. 3D on the Nintendo 3DS works because it’s integrated – you can opt for 2D or 3D by twiddling the depth perception switch, you don’t have to plan in advance to carry specs with you.
Still, you could argue, a lot of the time tablets don’t leave the house. People use them as sofa-surfing machines, or for reading in bed, or catching up on Netflix or other streaming content in the garden, but fewer choose to carry both a tablet and a smartphone – or just a tablet – when they go out. New research published today by Berg Insight suggests that of the 17.1m tablets sold in 2010, only 3.9m of them had embedded 3G. A reluctance to sign up for another data contract is one likely reason for that, but it also seems safe to assume that owners are content using their existing home or office WiFi connections rather than taking their tablets further abroad. The delay in bringing out a WiFi-only Galaxy Tab, for instance, has been suggested as one of the reasons sales haven’t been as brisk as we were initially led to believe.
All well and good, but LG obviously intends the G-Slate to be a content creation device, not just one for consuming 3D media. The dual camera array on the back means that, unlike with a 3D HDTV, you can actually record the content you then go on to watch. Putting aside whether the slate form-factor is the best thing to hold up and film with, are users going to slap on their glasses and spontaneously record 3D video? Filming in 3D isn’t as straightforward as 2D, making the most of that third dimension takes some practice and monitoring of the picture, and G-Slate users could quickly become disillusioned with their impromptu results.
The G-Slate will certainly find buyers, and the well-packed spec sheet will help differentiate it from Honeycomb rivals, but whether the 3D camera is more than a gimmick remains to be seen. LG is yet to announce pricing, too, which could have another significant impact on the slate’s market performance. 3D has its time, and its place, but it’s nowhere near clear whether an Android tablet is it.


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