3DTV2010: 3D Is Ready For Primetime

But consumer education, production costs still roadblocks

Why This Matters

Frame-Compatible 3D Just Fine for Now

One of the reasons stereoscopic 3D TV is becoming reality this year is that networks and pay-TV operators plan to transmit their 3D video in "frame-compatible" broadcast formats designed to work within the existing infrastructure used for HD transmission. More.

WHILE THE LONG-TERM business potential for
stereoscopic 3D high-definition television remains
unclear, the necessary production, transmission
and display technology to bring 3D HD programming to market
this year is already in place. 3D’s biggest stumbling block
in 2010 will likely be educating consumers about the technology
and demonstrating it effectively at retail stores.

That was the central message from 3DTV2010, a wideranging,
half-day conference held in New York last week
produced by B&C, Multichannel News, TWICE, Videography,
DV Magazine and TV Technology
. The conference drew more
than 300 executives from the consumer electronics, pay-TV,
production and professional vendor communities.

Executives from satellite operator DirecTV and cable giant
Comcast said their existing HD set-tops and transmission infrastructure
can deliver 3D images to new 3D sets today. Production
veterans from the NBA, CBS and ESPN said that early
3D broadcasts have taught them how to balance the desire for
a dynamic 3D effect with the need to show important game
action; they are now exploring how to share 2D camera positions
with 3D productions as a way to keep costs in check.
And 3ality Digital Systems CEO Steve Schklair described how
his company’s specialized 3D camera rigs, which have supported
NFL and NHL productions in the U.S., are now being
used regularly in the U.K. and India after his company provides
initial training.

“Right now, the biggest obstacle in the industry is education,
both on the consumer and professional sides,” Schklair

For 3D HD proponents, the overall picture must be reassuring,
given that commercial 3D HD will officially launch in
the U.S. in less than two weeks, when the ESPN 3D channel
begins its coverage of the FIFA World Cup on June 11 with a
match between South Africa and Mexico.

ESPN 3D will show some 25 World Cup matches in 3D
in its first month and will likely air a total of 100 3D events
in its first year, more than its plan of 85 events, according to
Sean Bratches, ESPN’s executive VP of sales and marketing.
Bratches, who was interviewed by Multichannel News Editor in-
Chief Mark Robichaux in a keynote session, said that 3D represents an opportunity to better serve the sports fan, just
like HD back in 2003.

“It seems to be a technology that’s on the move, and it’s an
opportunity to serve our core constituency,” he said.

But with carriage already lined up on DirecTV and Comcast
that will reach more than 40 million homes, at launch ESPN
3D is well ahead of ESPN’s first HD channel, which initially
secured carriage with a handful of small cable operators. “Significantly more homes will have access to ESPN 3D than HD
[at launch],” Bratches said.

Driving development

ESPN has been driving much of 3D’s development on the production
side over the past two years, producing a series of test
broadcasts with 3D specialist PACE and creating a dedicated
lab in Orlando, Fla. Bratches said the network planned to test
a range of vendors’ equipment late last week with semi-pro
football players at a stadium in East Hartford,
Conn. ESPN has just fi nished shooting its first
“This Is SportsCenter” promotional spot in 3D
and will only be accepting 3D commercials for
the new network; sponsor Sony will have a 3D
spot ready to go for the World Cup.

But Bratches noted that running 3D spots on
ESPN 3D is “preaching to the converted,” and
pointed out that the much larger advertising opportunity
is in running commercials for 3D sets on
its 2D networks, which the sports giant is already
doing. He added that consumer awareness of 3D
is probably better than it was for HD at a similar
point in that technology’s life cycle, and predicted
that by 2019, 3D penetration will still lag HD but
will be somewhat ahead of DVR penetration.

3D is still in its “very early days,” said Mike
Vitelli, president of Americas for Best Buy, and so far there has
been little product in the market. Vitelli, who was interviewed
by TWICE Editor-in-Chief Steve Smith in another keynote
session, said that the response of consumers to early in-store
demonstrations has been good, though he didn’t disclose any
sales fi gures for 3D sets.

“We’re pleased,” Vitelli said. “Consumers are experiencing
the technology, enjoying it and purchasing it.”

But there is still a good deal of consumer confusion over
3D, Vitelli cautioned. One misperception is that 3D HD-capable
sets can be used only to watch 3D when in fact they
are top-of-the-line HD sets with a bevy of extra features, 3D
being just one of them. He said that “3D-ready” branding,
which is already being used on some Blu-ray players, should
help solve that problem.

Vitelli also predicted that there will be a wave of customer
complaints as consumers attempt to take active-shutter glasses
configured for their particular set and use them to watch 3D
on another manufacturer’s set in a friend’s home.

“You bring your glasses and they’re not the right ones, it’s
not good,” Vitelli said. “I know where that phone call is going.
It’s not going to be anybody here [referring to the programmers
and operators in the room]. We’re going to get that call.”

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