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3D HDTV: Getting From Fad to Fabulous


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By : Chris Tribbey | Posted: 26 Mar 2010


It has been a big month for 3D HDTVs.

Three consumer electronics companies — Samsung, Sony and Panasonic — have detailed their release schedule and pricing for their 3D HDTVs this year, and Wal-Mart reported it will carry 3D HDTVs by Christmas.

Panasonic announced March 10 that it had sold the first 3D HDTV in New York. Other reports have indicated that a 3D firmware upgrade for the PlayStation 3 will come in June when Sony’s 3D HDTVs are available. And 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment became the latest studio to announce a 3D Blu-ray Disc title, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. No street date has yet been announced. Disney, Sony, Universal and DreamWorks had all announced plans to release 3D Blu-rays at the Consumer Electronics Show.

But while the 3D HDTV industry is getting jolts of positive press and a nice heap of consumer interest, not everyone is convinced that 3D HDTVs will be a hit right away.

What they all agree on, though, is that Avatar has changed everything.

The ‘Avatar’ Effect

Roughly 70% of Avatar’s $737 million domestic box office take came from 3D screens, according to research firm Futuresource. And as Rob Engle, 3D visual effects supervisor for Sony Pictures Imageworks, said recently at a 3D event in Hollywood, Calif.: “What Avatar managed to do was [show] how good 3D could be.”

Michael Stroud, founder of digital media group iHollywood Forum, said the 3D world already has been divided between pre-Avatar, and post-Avatar.

“No one realized when [director James] Cameron started filming the most popular movie of all time that Avatar would be seen as the star of 3D HDTV or that the film soon will be followed by an amazing number of TV components and sets that embrace 3D,” said Scott Birnbaum, VP of Samsung’s LCD business.

Jim Bottoms, managing director of corporate development for research firm Futuresource, said that partly due to Avatar’s success, all large-size HDTVs will be 3D-ready by 2015, and that by 2013 the entry-level price for a 3D HDTV will have dropped to around $1,500. The firm predicts 70% of U.S. consumers will have a 3D-ready HDTV by 2015, up from just 10% in 2012.

“Avatar has raised the bar,” Bottoms said.

Even DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, a longtime cheerleader for 3D, said recently that he’s surprised at the consumer interest in 3D at home. Every DreamWorks Animation title is being produced in 3D.

“We were really kind of amazed at the rate of adoption for 3D going on in the consumer electronics industry,” he said. “The quality of products they’re bringing to market is outstanding.

“We thought it would be a number of years before we saw revenue in terms of the home market.”

But Charlotte Huggins, producer of such 3D fare as Journey to the Center of the Earth and Fly Me to the Moon, has her doubts. As great as Avatar is, she says, the film by itself is not going to result in consumers buying 3D HDTVs.

She listed sports, games, broadcast events, and cable shows as needing to get on board with 3D before people take to full-time 3D in the home.

“Yeah, sure, movies are cool, but you’ve got to look at the whole picture,” she said. “That’s what’s going to sell it.”

Even director Cameron said March 23 that there simply aren’t going to be enough 3D HDTVs in the market to warrant a 3D Blu-ray release of the film this year.

“There just aren’t enough people with those screens,” he said. “We’ve got to have a content strategy that makes sense.”

Tony Jasionowski, senior group manager for Panasonic’s technology liaison and alliance group, said that Avatar may have boosted consumer interest in 3D, but it was CG film, with which filmmakers can apply 3D easily, that truly allowed them to show off the format.

“The CG environment is the perfect environment for 3D, because you can manipulate everything,” he said. “Would you make There Will Be Blood in 3D? We haven’t gotten there yet.”

Only a few networks have gotten out of the gate with 3D channels.

“Everyone is aware of the content gap,” said Insight Media president Chris Chinnock. His firm is predicting worldwide 3D HDTV sales of up to 50 million by 2015. He noted that Discovery, ESPN and DirecTV are all rolling out 3D channels, but “they know they can’t have three channels repeat all day long.”

Cablevision Systems broadcasted an NHL hockey game between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden in 3D, making it the first U.S. network sports telecast in 3D. Comcast said it will air The Masters golf tournament in 3D next month.

Avatar, sports and animations may pop in 3D, but not everything will be 3D-suitable, experts agreed.

“The nightly news in 3D? That may be a little disturbing,” said Joe Alves, director of Jaws 3-D.

2010: Year for 3D HDTV?

Jon Currie, managing director of research firm Zpryme, said consumer sentiment toward 3D HDTV is about 50/50, with the negative half worried about the investment they’ve already made in a new HDTV.

His firm’s research found that consumers worry that 3D glasses at home will be “a pain” to buy, share and use. Most consumers responded that 3D HDTV will be great, but only for occasional use.

But 2010 is the year 3D HDTV will begin to take off, according to research firm DisplaySearch, with total 3D displays hitting 196 million units shipped by 2018, generating $22 billion in revenue. Still, the firm is cautious in its forecast.

“Consumers will want reassurance that such things as 3D glasses will interoperate between brands,” said Paul Gray, DisplaySearch director of TV electronics research. “Retailers will also have the same demand to allow a thriving accessory market to develop.
 
“The next stage is less glamorous but vital to secure 3D’s long-term value. We have seen 3D crazes before, and sustained attention to detail is important to prevent disillusionment from starting.”

Insight Media’s Chinnock said there have always been issues with interoperability with new technology and noted that the Consumer Electronics Association is working toward a standard for 3D glasses for all manufacturers.

“As with any new technology, you tend to have independent formats, as you do now,” Panasonic’s Jasionowski said about the glasses used by various 3D HDTV manufacturers. “With time, as with anything else, a standard will be developed.”

Imageworks’ Engle said adoption of 3D HDTVs will come down to the same thing as it has for every other consumer electronics device: “content, content, content.”

“We’re going to have to fight the battle of getting people to buy more TVs,” he said. “We’re not going to sell anything without content.”

Part of that content issue, according to Adam Gregorich with Home Theater Forum, is the fault of the 3D HDTV manufacturers.

“While I have a lot of respect for both Panasonic and Samsung and understand that they are investing heavily into the 3D standard, in my honest opinion, I think they are making some mistakes in their introduction of the product to the consumer market,” he said. “There is already a shortage of content on launch, but that problem is being made worse by manufacturer/studio alliances.”

By bundling 3D Blu-rays exclusively with their 3D HDTVs (Monsters vs. Aliens for Samsung; Coraline and Ice Age 3 for Panasonic), the manufacturers risk upsetting consumers who want access to all the 3D Blu-ray content available, he said.

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