Averting another format war, this time in 3D TV
With virtually every major TV manufacturer now eyeing the release of 3D HDTVs, almost 200 companies in the global entertainment and consumer electronics industries are now working on uniting behind a common set of technology standards for consumer viewing of movies and other 3D content on home TVs.
Their hope is to avoid a repeat of the ugly HD video disc format war, which left Toshiba badly bruised and HD DVD a distant memory.
Despite the far greater complexities of 3D technology over something as simple as 1080p video, industry players from a variety of camps are bent on preventing similar divisiveness this time around, said David Naranjo, director of product development at Mitsubishi Digital Electronics, speaking during a press conference at last week's Digital Downtown/CEA Line Show conference in New York City.
Fractionalization among 3D technologies in the areas of content distribution, video compression, and decoding "just wouldn't be good for any of us," echoed George Palmer, a Mitsubishi senior product manager, in a meeting with Betanews at the event.
Instead, many HDTV makers are gearing up to adhere to a set of 3D standards about to be formulated by a task force formed in May by the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), an organization consisting of about 175 companies, including several major motion picture houses. Toshiba, however, is not a BDA member.
"Whatever the task force decides, then that's what we'll do," said Mitsubishi's Palmer. Palmer added, though, that he hopes the resulting standards will be backward-compatible with any 3D products released before the standards are finalized.
Attendees also spoke to the issue of whether and when 3D glasses will no longer be needed. Steve Schklair, CEO of 3ality Digital Systems, predicted that consumers won't be able to toss the goggles aside for about another five or six years.
But Palmer forecast that 3D glasses will never really go away, since they'll keep being needed for "displaying a wide enough viewing angle."
Also at the show, Mitsubishi rolled out plans to release a total of eight new 3D-capable HDTVs, including a massive 82-inch product called the DLP Model WD-82737.
Beginning this week, Naranjo said, Mitsubishi will send a 53-foot trailer to its 700 retail sites in the US, to give demos to consumers of 3D and its other digital TV technologies and products, such as a set of Unisen LCD TVs with newly enhanced Integrated Sound Projector technology.
"Once you see [3D], you won't want to see anything else," he contended.
So far, however, home 3D screens are rather few and far between, with much of the available 3D content consisting of games.
A couple of years ago, Samsung introduced 3D-ready DLP TVs, later extending the 3D capabilities to flat-panel plasma TVs. Mitsubishi already sells rear projection 3D TVs. Hyundai offers a 3D-capable 46-inch LCD TV, but only in Japan. In April of this year, Panasonic unveiled plans for a professional HD production system with a camera recorder and HD plasma display for filming 3D movies and TV shows. The following month, LG announced a forthcoming 23-inch 3D screen.
At the CES 2009 show in Las Vegas in January, Sony demo'd a 3D TV prototype, while also telling reporters that the specific technology shown won't necessarily be incorporated into specific consumer products.
Viewing of 3D content on today's 3D TVs means consumers must purchase a separate accessory kit, which typically includes PC software, an emitter for hooking up the PC to the TV, and a pair of 3D goggles.
Yet 3D TV will "be driven by guys like the Mitsubishis," according to Schklair, who pointed to sports and other events as additional catalysts.
Over time, costs associated with 3D TVs will come down, Schklair maintained. 3D TV will also save money on TV production, he said. Only about half as many cameras will be required for broadcasting football games, for example.
A recent survey by analyst firm the NPD Group showed that 17% of consumers already want to be able to watch 3D theatrical films in "advanced 3D" on their home TVs.
Studios have fared well this year with 3D flicks in movie theaters. Many consumers have shown themselves willing to spring for prices around 50% higher than those of regular movie tickets to view 3D feature films ranging from Disney/Pixar's Up to Lionsgate's My Bloody Valentine.