Exclusive: 3D as standard as the power button

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ces 2013 475x317 Exclusive: 3D as standard as the power button

At CES, 3D stakeholders counter negative reports of consumer apathy and the misconception that UltraHD is muscling 3D out writes Adrian Pennington

The buzz word from major TV brands at CES may be Ultra-HD but that doesn't mean that 3D has fallen off the agenda. TV vendors may no longer be using 3D to sell product, at the same time as shipping the functionality as standard.

According to Sony, 3D is as much a part of new Ultra-HD sets as the power button, while in a conference organised by The International 3D Society and 3D@Home Consortium, the consistent message was that 3D has arrived.

Where 3D has suffered is in maintaining the momentum of the format's launch in 2010 where there were wild predictions of everything being produced and viewed in 3D within just a few years. Those expectations have had to be recalibrated, but contrary to much of the mainstream press which sweeps 3D away by suggesting consumer's simply don't want it, the statistics show that 3D is slowly but inexorably on the rise.

Approximately 21 percent of US homes now have a 3D-capable television set, after 5.6 million sets were sold in 2012, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

While 3D TV sales have fallen short of industry’s hopes, video viewing in 3D is on the rise, with 42 percent of 3D-capable HDTV owners watching at least five hours per week.

“Consumer interest in 3D TVs and 3D content continues to grow as ownership rates increase,” said Kevin Tillmann, a senior research analyst at CEA.

The estimated 5.6 million 3D sets sold in 2012 represent 18 percent of total TV sales, which is up from 8 percent of total sales the previous year.

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IHS Screen figures show that 3DTV's account for 5% of the market worldwide and that this will rise to a third in four years. £8 billion of the global £340bn spend on filmed entertainment (at the box office, on packaged media and TV subscriptions) in 2012 was directly related to 3D, said analyst Tom Morrod.

“3D is already integrated across all sectors primarily in box office, payTV and Blu Ray.”

“The simple fact is that we are in a very, very early stage of 3D,” said Morrod. “The future for 3D is positive.”

I3DS president Jim Chabin declared that in 10 years, the period we are now in will be seen as a time of 3D infrastructure rollout into homes.

“This is a time of significant growth as this new digital technology evolves. In short, what the marketplace is feeling now can be best characterized as "growing pains."

According to Chabin, 2012 was another strong year for 3D at the box office, with five of the top 10 films of the year being released in 3D.

Of the domestic US $10.8bn box office, more than $2.5bn came from 3D movies. What's more, more than 50 movies will be released in 3D during 2013, including Man of Steel, Jack the Giant Slayer, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Great Gatsby, and a 3D conversion of Jurassic Park.

Chabin said: “When speaking with the press, reporters invariably seem to want to compare the success of 3D movies with the perceived lack of progress in the 3DTV marketplace. We like to point out that there are now 41,000+ 3D movie screens in the world that generate billions of dollars of movie ticket sales. By the end of this year, we will have a total of 8.8 million 3DTV screens in the US. Based on 2012 consumer research figures, the Society anticipates that number being over 60M by 2016. With 100 million US households, we are making great strides. But, it is an easier and faster installation for the motion picture industry to equip 35,000+ screens in about 4 years than it is to equip 100M households.”

3D-enabled HDTV shipments will more than double in 2012 and continue strong momentum with projected growth of 56% in 2013 and 43% in 2014.
 
“As 3D becomes a much more common feature on the current HDTVs being sold in the US, consumers have not only become more aware of the technology, but they are beginning to truly embrace it,” claimed Chabin. “Falling price points [to below $600] have continued to aid adoption among price-savvy consumers, as well.”

Sky's 3D director John Cassy reported that subscriber numbers were still moving upwards, while ESPN say that it is continuing to roll out ESPN 3D to more cable companies and that this is moving faster than that of high-definition channels over a decade ago.

"What we thought three years ago is that people would go into a store to buy a 3D TV," Bryan Burns, ESPN's VP of Strategic Business Planning conceded. "What we found instead is that people wanted a really good HD TV that happened to also have 3D in it."

The notion that 4K is a replacement for 3D is also a myth that needs to be countered.

“They have to go hand in hand,” said stereoscopic consultant and producer Buzz Hayes. “The message is that they are not competitive technologies.”

Tom Cosgrove, president of 3net which is producing its first 4K series [Space], added: “4K is coming; it makes 3D look that much better. We look at 4K production as a way to future proof our content.”

Ken Lowe founder and VP of engineering Vizio agreed: “Ultra-HD is good for 3D. We need cheap Ultra-HD panels since with them you get a full 1080 HD resolution on each eye which will drive development of autostereoscopic screens.”

At CES, no major manufacturer was showing any significant breakthrough in autostereo screens which Dolby said were realistically three years away at least.

“There is still a very different depth budget with autostereo screens which is significantly limited over what you can get with stereo presentation,” said Dolby's Roland Vlacicu. “But this is going to increase over time as we develop  better optics and higher resolution panels. The demonstration we have today also has limited depth but it is also a workable amount of depth.”

In any case, there is a consensus that autostereo is not the holy grail for 3DTV's longevity. Instead the format's success has to be about growing the volume and quality of content.

“If the content was good enough we would wear a welding mask,” suggested Hayes.

DreamWorks Animation’s Jim Mainard urged content makers “to do more to accelerate the (3D) curve,” while Tillmann advised that “continuing to expand and innovate with 3D content will be extremely important for future usage and will continue to drive sales.”

Steve Schklair, who runs 3ality Technica noted that the numbers of people with 3DTV sets meant that it was now possible for broadcasters to fund 3D content via the traditional advertising model, rather than payTV.

“The uplift in cost between shooting an episodic show in 3D is about $1million, which over the course of a season is really not a big deal. The reason we have slow growth in the US is that advertisers are not aboard.

“I personally see the advancement of 3DTV dependent on the same compelling content which people go home to watch now. That means until their favourite shows are available in 3D, take-up will be slow.”

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