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Interest in 3D TV grows, but can it really reach out to the mainstream?

February 4th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Samsung 3D TV is coming but do you care?

Interest in 3D TV continues to bubble up. Following a strong showing for the technology at the recent Las Vegas CES, it’s a story that just won’t go away.
Back in the 1950s Hollywood used 3D technology to lure cinema goers back to the theatre – with great old movies like The Wax Museum and It Came From Out Of Space. Now it looks as if TV makers will be trying the same trick in an effort to get us to upgrade our TVs again.

On Monday I was invited to talk about all things 3D on William Wright’s BBC Radio Lincolnshire drive time show. The hook was Sky’s pre-Xmas demos of 3D TV. Sky generated a lot of coverage by showing off its 3D chops, but the exercise was just about proof of concept. Basically, the satcaster wanted to show that its system could work – it does – and there was further revenue growth in its platform – there is. But it has no plans just yet to introduce a service.

Of course, we’ve had 3D movies released on DVD but it hasn’t been that effective. Images were kind of blurry with poor colour. The big difference is that now we have high definition to play with.

Hollywood is undoubtedly keen to release 3D movies on Blu-ray, and by the time any domestic system comes to market there will be a huge slate of 3D movies available to release.
If 2009 is destined to be the year of 3D in the cinema – from Monsters Vs Aliens in March leading through to Avatar in December – then 2010 could be the year of 3D at home.

However, for hi-def 3D to work we need a new generation of screens and compatible software. All the major TV makers have pledged to support the concept: Sony, Samsung, LG, Panasonic. But if these companies are really serious they need to come together and agree a common standard; something that historically they are not good at doing.

Some TV makers claim that their TVs are already 3D compatible, but until a standard is thrashed out you’ll have no guarantee that your set will work with 3D content. Take any such claims with a pinch of salt.

Panasonic 3D theatreThere are some big names trying to get their technology adopted as the 3D format of the future – Panasonic and Dolby are probably the two best know names. But there are other players waiting in the wings. One convincing contender is Real D, the current leader in theatrical 3D (hands up if you’ve checked out My Bloody valentine 3D?).

People leaving the Panasonic 3D theatreBy way of coincidence, I was at the Groucho Club last week for an informal shindig with the Digital Entertainment Group Europe, a trade body featuring the software industry’s biggest players.

There I got to chat about 3D with Don Hunton, the EVP of Paramount Home Entertainment and Yves Caillaud the Senior Vice President for Europe, of Warner Home Video. Both showed a passing interest in the technology, before telling me that Koji Hase has been appointed as President of Worldwide Consumer Electronics for Real D.
This is highly significant. I know Hase from way back, when he was General Manager of Toshiba’s DVD division and chair of the DVD Forum, before moving to Warner as head of Worldwide New Technology. If Real D wants to get its proprietary tech adopted for consumer user, then they couldn’t have picked a higher profile hitter than Hase.
Regardless of which standard wins out, I still think consumers will take some convincing that it’s all worth paying a premium for. On homecinemachoice.com we’ve been running a reader survey to see how interested people are in 3D. By far the largest percentage think that while it may be fun, it’s still little more than a gimmick. Far fewer are absolutely sure they want it.

To be honest I was also a 3D skeptic, but at the CES I saw an amazing demonstration given by Panasonic. This was hi-def 3D, coming from a Blu-ray disc, on a 105 in plasma – and it really incredible. A truly immersive experience, it featured movies, cartoons and sports. One sequence featured WWE wrestlers and it really felt like you were in the ring with them. It was incredibly realistic. If this is your idea of a good time, then 3D at home could be just what you’ve been waiting for.

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