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Six Questions: Eisuke Tsuyuzaki

21 May, 2009 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Panasonic VP Eisuke Tsuyuzaki

Panasonic VP Eisuke Tsuyuzaki first came into the home entertainment spotlight when he and his company emerged as the CE community’s most vocal supporter of the Blu-ray Disc format.

Now, with Blu-ray poised for a sharp growth trajectory, the hardworking Tsuyuzaki has immersed himself in another technology he believes will be The Next Big Thing: 3-D.

Already the rage in Hollywood theatrical circles, 3-D is still several dimensions away from the home. The latest development: The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) says it is “moving forward” with the integration of 3-D technology into the Blu-ray Disc format and has formed an official 3-D task force of member companies from the movie, consumer electronics and IT industries.

We recently sat down with Tsuyuzaki and talked about the ongoing work at the company’s Panasonic Hollywood Labs (PHL) in creating a 3-D standard for Blu-ray Disc, which the executive believes just might be the format’s killer app.

HM: To what do you attribute the extraordinary success 3-D has enjoyed in theaters recently? When Monsters vs. Aliens opened, 58% of its opening weekend box office came from 3-D showings. Is this just another mini-boom for 3-D — after all, it’s been around since the 1950s, with pictures such as Creature From the Black Lagoon — or is it something bigger?

Tsuyuzaki: It’s more than a sustained fad when leaders such as Disney and others, including DreamWorks, announce that their upcoming mainstream movies will be created and delivered in 3-D, unlike the 1950s. Another difference is that new digital technologies are enabling consumers to enjoy a more comprehensive, immersive experience and are adding another expressive texture for directors, much like sound and color when they were introduced. Digital technologies not only create an enhanced theatrical experience but also can enable significant cost savings. Taken together these factors are the catalyst behind digital cinema rollout, which in turn is the foundation for today’s theatrical 3-D.

It was actually Dick Cook at Disney who convinced us that we should get moving big time. As demand for 3-D production grows, it’s natural that studios will consider amortization across all revenue streams, including home entertainment, as soon as practically available when significant standards prevail in 2009 and products are subsequently introduced in quantity beginning in 2010.

HM: What’s driving this demand among consumers for 3-D?

Tsuyuzaki: A common reaction is that many feel that they are being pulled into the story itself. I will agree with Bill Mechanic, producer of Coraline, who told me you’re not watching what’s on the screen but, rather, with the added subtle depth of perception, you feel as though you are a witness to the story.

Several scenes from Lionsgate’s My Bloody Valentine and Battle for Terra all seem to take the consumer from the theater to a theme park ride. As there are black-and-white and color movies, 3-D is another expressive art form. Here at Panasonic, we dub this engaging experience the “window to reality” which can provide an enhanced and often more satisfying storytelling experience.

HM: You appear confident we can duplicate this demand, and the 3-D theatrical experience, in the home. What do we have to do to get there and, specifically, what is Panasonic doing to further along this cause?

Tsuyuzaki: At the close of the BD format war, we spoke to several of our closest studio partners on what to develop next. The resounding response based upon those conversations was 3-D. Through Fox, we have gotten to know Jim Cameron and Jon Landau at Lightstorm as well as Vince Pace, who are working on the first major live-action 3-D action adventure movie, Avatar.

The Disney relationship has extended to new discovery in conjunction with Pixar and with Zemeckis’ groundbreaking motion-capture movie A Christmas Carol and Jerry Bruckheimer’s G-Force. Through these dialogues, we discovered that the predominant 3-D production is based upon capturing left and right eye perspectives, or having two video streams. By working closely with some of the pioneers in Hollywood, Panasonic’s objective is to bring Hollywood directly to the home. This was true for DVD, significantly so for Blu-ray, and will be even more so with 3-D.

Based on the left/right eye frame sequential process, Panasonic has already developed 3-D Full High Definition HDTV and 3-D Blu-ray player prototypes demonstrated in 2008. At the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, we announced 3-D Full HD Blu-ray Disc authoring development and production capabilities. Most recently at the National Association of Broadcasters convention this April, Panasonic announced the start of development of 3-D Full HD broadcast cameras, editing and professional monitors.

It’s important that we create an ecosystem, and make 3-D into an open standard such as the BDA (Blu-ray Disc Association) did with Blu-ray, so we can create a much bigger market more quickly and avoid causing any consumer confusion. And, given the recent BDA announcement of its 3-D task-force, it is significant that Panasonic’s R&D group continues to lead in standardization efforts of Blu-ray and HDMI, two key building blocks for 3-D that will allow a whole range of 3-D-ready products to be connected.

We believe home entertainment is where there is the most initial momentum.

HM: What makes Blu-ray Disc such a good vehicle for the 3-D experience? Could 3-D be one of the high-definition’s "killer apps"?

Tsuyuzaki: There’s no doubt that Blu-ray has been successful as the best way to watch prerecorded entertainment in the home, period. I’ve mentioned before that Blu-ray was designed as an extendable platform. BonusView and BD Live enhancements will eventually create additional new streaming and portable services and create a new reoccurring revenue stream (VHS had rental, DVD had sellthrough, Blu-ray will have incremental-click revenue). Similarly, 3-D Blu-ray is a very clear identifiable distinction from the past, something consumers could not experience before.

From a Blu-ray player development standpoint, to extend from BonusView or Picture-in-Picture (HD + SD video streams) to two HD streams for 3-D is not as difficult as it may first seem. It is critical to emphasize that within this common standard, we continue to maintain the highest picture quality possible. And, therefore, Panasonic will continue to advocate for full resolution (two 1080p video streams), with graphics and other current Blu-ray features. Everyone has worked hard to create a benchmark for quality, and we should not be distracted by any half step or interim home video solutions. Because the success of 3-D is directly linked to its visual impact, we must take care not to jeopardize that success by doing anything that could limit its ability to achieve maximum image quality.

Graphics is another exciting area of development we are developing at breakneck speed, based upon studio requirements and input. Since the Panasonic 3-D proposal is based upon established video codecs and is an extension of the current BD-Java environment, we believe that the verification and completion of the standard will be completed swiftly for licensing as early as late 2009.

If we all get behind this, I believe 3-D will be a major boost to make Blu-ray even more successful and predominant. This is a boon for the creative community, the studios, the allied industries, computer and consumer electronics industries, and the retail trade. 

HM: How big could the home 3-D business get, and how soon? Do you agree with Jeffrey Katzenberg’s assessment that the home 3-D market won’t develop for another five to seven years?

Tsuyuzaki: I have the greatest respect for Jeffrey Katzenberg. However, I believe that 3-D will create such a compelling home video experience that it will grow as a business much more rapidly than one might otherwise anticipate. I’m not saying that every Blu-ray disc will be in 3-D. Instead, I expect that when the content warrants the extraordinary experience that 3-D makes possible, consumers will demand to see that content in 3-D.

I think several research companies, such as Screen Digest, Futuresource and others, have mentioned the demand for 3-D HDTVs to be a quite realistic 10% of all flat-panel televisions by around 2012. Panasonic is encouraged by such positive findings, and is committed to sell 3-D Full High Definition HDTV at a price in the “realm of reality” from 2010. After all, after the June 12 digital broadcast transition, all televisions must be HDTV capable. And if 3-D is to become the next trend, it’s only appropriate to offer consumers a 3-D option as soon as possible.

HM: The first step is 3-D with better glasses than the traditional cardboard red-and-cyan anaglyph glasses in use. Ultimately, do you see a day when no glasses will be necessary and the 3-D experience will be brought to viewers solely through the screen?

Tsuyuzaki: The quicker we can all move away from anaglyph, the better for all of us. The antiquated and degraded visual experience is a disservice and in the long term may turn off the consumer on the whole concept of 3-D. Therefore, as there is now strong interest in 3-D, there is an urgent need to provide a proper transition path quickly.

For the immediate future, just as in theaters, the glasses are an integrated part of the immersive high quality experience, especially when it comes to large-screen living room environments. As for developing something beyond that … I have a few ideas, but, as always, Panasonic will dig deep in its engineering roots, as well as consult and collaborate with the Hollywood community, who know what it takes to create a truly compelling visual experience. So, check back again with us after 3-D has taken off.

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