While 3-D technology has been helping put behinds in movie theater seats over the past nine months or so, 2010 should be the year we find out if consumers are really ready for another dimension in their living rooms.
Next year stands to be a watershed in the production and marketing of 3-D TVs across the globe. While some companies, such as Mitsubishi, have had a 3-D TV model on the market since 2006, the number of actual units in living rooms worldwide is estimated at a relatively minuscule two million. However, CE manufacturers are gunning to multiply that number many fold in the coming quarters. As such, majors like Panasonic, Sony, Mitsubishi and Philips are busily readying 3-D-enabled TVs for mass-market distribution.
David Naranjo, director of product development for Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America, expects 2010 to be a landmark year. ‘The industry as a whole is now very focused on bringing more 3-D TVs and 3-D content to the home in 2010,’ he says, adding that all the available sets will require users to wear glasses. Glasses-free 3-D, while being showcased at various trade shows, is still conservatively five to seven years away from reaching the consumer products market.
The 3-D push is so unified that experts don’t expect the same sort of format wars that hampered the release of HD-quality home entertainment tech. Steven Jacobs, principal analyst at SEJ Media Solutions, says the consumer electronics industry and content producers learned their lesson after the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD war of 2005.
‘All the consumer electronics manufacturers want to avoid round two,’ says Jacobs. ‘It’s safe to say they want everybody on board.’
The agreement on technical standards, expected to be announced by the Blu-ray Disc Association by the end of the year, will open the door for what will be the driver of the systems – 3-D Blu-ray players that will work with new compatible TVs.
‘The initial wave will be on Blu-ray,’ says Jacobs. ‘This will include theatrical releases and games and that will give everybody an idea of what kind of appetite there really is.’
While the technology and new content are seemingly ready, the big question remains: Will consumers be willing to pay for new sets with the capability? According to Mike Fisher, convergence and new technology consultant for UK-based Futuresource, the question itself is a bit of a red herring.
‘It’s just not a big shift,’ says Fisher. ‘It’s more like a feature. In terms of added cost to the product, it’s really not that much.’ While CE companies have not yet announced their SRPs on the shiny new sets, Jacobs posits that the feature would add between US$200 and US$500 to the cost of a new TV.
On the broadcast side, UK-based Sky has positioned itself as a trailblazer in the area. The satcaster has already run a few one-offs in 3-D, including a special performance of Swan Lake by the English National Ballet last April, and it’s recently announced a full 3-D dedicated channel to bow sometime next year. In effect, Sky is ushering in the second wave of 3-D TV that’ll primarily be powered by live broadcasts of special events, concerts and sports.
‘If people fall in love with the 3-D experience from packaged media, then I think you will see more experimentation among broadcasters with 3-D events of the month, or the week,’ says Jacobs. ‘It took about 15 years for HD to become an overnight success – I don’t think 3-D TV will take that long.’