4 reasons for 3-D TV, 7 more for why it’s a long shot

Why they keep calling it 3D TV? It is really just 2.5D that give you an illusion of 3D but not a true 3D. You can tilt you head and a different image from the other side. I don’t think 3D TV will fly nor 3D movies. It’s just a fad that comes and go. The real breakthrough would be holographic TV that gives a true 3D view.

by Junko Yoshida – EE Times – 10/28/2009

YOKOHAMA, Japan — If a panel at a flat-panel display conference held here Wednesday (Oct. 28) is any indication, the possibility of 3-D entertainment in the home is a foregone conclusion, at least if you believe Japanese consumer electronics giants such as Sony and Panasonic.

More accurately, 3-D is a matter of survival for these companies, whose two-dimensional sales continue to decline.

At the conference here, FPD International 2009, top executives promoting Blu-ray systems — from Panasonic and Sony, respectively — made clear that they are ready for a 2010 launch of full HD 3-D-equipped Blu-ray players and matching 3-D TV sets.

The new 3-D Blu-ray format, whose standardization is scheduled to finish at the end of this year, will use two 1920 x 1080p full HD resolution frames, one for the right eye and another for the left eye. 3-D disks will maintain backward compatibility with 2-D Blu-ray players, so that new disks can be played back in 2-D on current Blu-ray hardware.

While there will be a single standard for 3-D Blu-ray disks and players, the market is likely to see fragmented 3-D display technologies on new 3-D TV sets.

Broadcasters likely to opt for different 3-D technology

To further complicate matters, broadcasters who want to reach mass audiences for the minimum investment in infrastructure, hope to offer 3-D programs in a format different from the 120Hz, full-HD frame sequential method adopted by the Blu-ray Disc Association, according to Ikuo Matsumoto, executive director at Fujiwara-Rothchild, a 3-D market research firm based in Tokyo.

Some satellite operators and pay TV companies plan to use a so-called “half-HD” format, which crams two pictures — left eye and right eye — in one frame. There are various “half-HD” methods, because the information going to each eye can be arranged in “line by line,” “top and bottom,” side by side” or “checker sampling” configurations.

Multi-format 3-D TV

Speculation abounds in Japan over whether Blu-Ray promoters, who are also leading large-screen TV manufacturers, are willing to offer multi-format 3-D TV sets. But so far, they’re all mum on their 3-D TV strategies.

However, Masayuki Kozuka, general manager of the storage devices business strategy office at Panasonic Corp., hinted Wednesday that Panasonic 3-D TV will be adapted to broadcast by allowing “side by side” signals. Such signals will then convert to frame-sequential by using special circuitry inside TV sets, he said.

Akira Shimazu, general manager of BD strategy at Sony Corp., agreed that Sony has similar strategies.

It is not clear what other 3-D technologies will be incorporated into these companies’ 3-D sets, however. But one thing is clear: the adoption of Xpol stereoscopic 3D technology is “unlikely,” indicated Kozuka.

Xpol 3D, developed by Arisawa Manufacturing Co., is an optical device based on a micro-polarizer. By bonding it to a flat-panel display, such as LCD, users can view flicker-free 3D stereoscopic content simply by wearing cheaper polarizer glasses, claimed the Japanese company.

Kozuka, however, complained that the Xpol filter on 3-D TV could limit viewing angles for consumers.

Market researcher Matsumoto stressed that a multi-format 3-D TV is “ideal” for broader 3-D market adoption, but integration of a host of new 3-D technologies could result in a cost-prohibitive product, because of the variety of intellectual property involved.

Why are they forcing 3-D so hard now?

Participants in Wednesday’s panel stressed several key reasons why they must seize the moment now to push 3-D into the home.

Four reasons for 3-D push

First, it’s all about digital.

While acknowledging consumers’ lukewarm reaction to the 3-D cinema experience in the past, Panasonic’s Kozuka made it clear that “all digital 3-D technologies today make a world of difference from analog 3-D experiences we used to know.” He added that all-digital 3-D offers less crosstalk and dramatically improves the sense of dimension.

Second, Hollywood studios’ enthusiasm for 3-D is building at full speed right now.

There will be at least 4,000 digital cinema theaters worldwide by the of this year. Hollywood has discovered that profitability per theater triples for 3-D movies, compared to 2-D.

A host of new 3-D flicks are now in production, including “A Christmas Carol” by Robert Zemeckis and “Avatar” by James Cameron.

“We want to ride the momentum, not lose it,” said Sony’s Shimazu.

Third, Blu-ray by itself has done nothing for Hollywood studios’ home video business.

Home video business revenue has been on a slight downward curve over the last few years, acknowledged Panasonic’s Kozuka. In order to reverse this trend, “We need to give consumers a good, visible reason to buy Blu-ray,” he said. That, in the eyes of Blu-ray promoters, is 3-D. “We’ve offered interactive Blu-ray based on Java. We also connected Blu-ray to the Internet,” said Kozuka. “But we think 3-D is the biggest differentiator — clear to everyone.”

Forth, 3-D, if successful, will create whole new opportunities for a range of product lines including both professional and consumer electronics devices.

Sony’s Shimazu claimed that Sony is ready to go 3-D not only with its game console PlayStation 3 but also its Vaio PCs. Naturally, new 3-D TV sets will also play a key role in differentiating their hardware, he added.

Both Sony and Matsushita stand to gain by developing professional 3-D video cameras and other 3-D related services for movie studios and TV production houses.

Seven factors that could trip up the industry’s 3-D push

While 3-D promoters remained optimistic, the Q&A session at the panel offered a long list of reasons why 3-D is still a long shot, or could once again, prove a fad that fizzles in the end.

First problem: subtitles on 3-D content.

How to deal with subtitles, or more importantly closed caption information which is mandatory in the United States, on a 3-D TV remains an unresolved issue. One can put a subtitle on a 3-D film, but when an image jumps off the screen, the subtitle follows. “It all depends on depth of a screen for now, we don’t have a definitive solution,” acknowledged Panasonic’s Kozuka.

Second, sports and live events broadcast in 3-D.

No videographers and producers have enough experience with shooting live events in 3-D.

In a live 3-D baseball game, for example, cameras would have to be relocated from long-familiar 2-D vantage points in order to follow the flight of a 95-mph fastball from pitcher to batter, and again from batter to wherever the ball lands. In a football game, a long pass might be impossible to capture in a single panning shot with one 3-D camera. But if a camera switch is necessary, the whole play could be lost in transition.

Third, animation in 3-D is fine, but what about others?

So far, Hollywood studios have been able to demonstrate the effective use of 3-D in animation films. “But animation is after all depicting a fantasy world,” said Reiji Asakura, an author and audio/video critic in Japan, who moderated the panel.

The real test is in a regular film, shooting the real world. “Even a slight discrepancy shown in 3-D will turn the audience off, because we all have a real-life 3-D experience,” he noted.

Fourth, what about those cockamamie glasses?

Whether using active shutter glasses or polarizer glasses, the question is: “Will consumers be asked to wear them all the time?” asked one of the attendees. The inconvenience factor would be substantial. “Most people today watch TV while doing something else — whether eating supper or reading a newspaper,” he pointed out.

Fifth, how much is it?

No vendors have disclosed how much a new 3-D Blu-ray player or a 3-D TV set will cost — yet. At a time when the global economy remains weak, it’s unclear who’s ready to jump on the newest gadget, except perhaps for the gadget-happy consumers of Japan.

Sixth, did you say “3-D PC?”

In different parts of the world, PCs continue to gain momentum as a primary device for entertainment. Sony says it has a plan for 3-D Vaio PCs, but the company offers no details on how to enable a PC with 3-D.

Seventh, is 3-D safe for your eyes?

The biggest question mark, and a potential deal breaker for 3-D, is — no kidding — optical safety. There is not enough evidence to determine whether watching 3-D intensely on a game console for hours is harmless. Vendors claim they will be taking precautions and working on guidelines. But the safety issue, if mishandled, could send 3-D back to the same drawing board where it died in 1954.

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