3D-Ready TVs Increase in Popularity

As next-generation 3D presentation takes off theatrically, consumer electronics manufacturers and studios are working on how to replicate that enhanced experience in the home.

Home entertainment has been stuck in the past with regards to 3D technology because of a lack of standards for hardware/software for TV, Internet and DVD delivery systems. Generally, all current 3D theatrical titles, such as Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert, have been downgraded to anaglyph rendering (technology used during the ’50s) for their DVD/Blu-ray Disc release. Current digital 3D theatrical projection, though also requiring glasses, utilizes polarized light and creates a superior image to anaglyph without negative side effects.

Mitsubishi and Samsung are among those selling 3D-ready TVs, which will be necessary for consumers to display next-generation 3D video at home. But at present, no advanced 3D content is widely available for broadcast.

To get home entertainment up to speed, Warner Bros. and Walt Disney Co. are among companies that formed a standards task force within the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers in July. The group hopes to agree on a single 3D format that will be compatible with a wide variety of devices and delivery systems.

Even without established standards, companies such as TDVision are testing advanced 3D technology and will roll out the first non-anaglyph 3D Blu-ray discs in the next few months.

“The studios at this point are putting out titles in anaglyph, and the theaters are doing it in a higher quality experience,” said Wendy Aylsworth, Warner senior VP of technology and SMPTE engineering VP, during the Sept. 29-Oct. 1 3D Biz-Ex conference in Studio City, Calif. “They want to get that experience into the home.”

By Feb. 28, the SMPTE 3D task force will have defined standard requirements for 3D software/hardware and delivery processes. There is an overall hope that 3D-capable DVD/Blu-ray, TV and Web content is ‘backwards compatible.’ For example, a 3D airing of Desperate Housewives could still be enjoyed on traditional 2D sets but without any eye-popping effects.

SMPTE hopes to complete writing some of the 3D standards by sometime in 2010.

“All the studios were taken by surprise by how quickly 3D was picked up in the theaters,” added Aylsworth. “They know that digital projection makes 3D experiences better. Home video divisions see that success and are saying, ‘We want to get that into the home.’”

She admits that translation of 3D theatrical technology to the home will be tricky. The theatrical exhibition industry needed to coordinate only a half-dozen projection manufacturers, a lot less than the hundreds of manufacturers involved in TV, DVD, Blu-ray and the Web. But Aylsworth and other 3D Biz-Ex participants noted that 3D offers too great of a financial upside for the home entertainment industry to ignore.

On average, consumers pay $5 more per movie ticket to see a film’s 3D version than 2D version, according to 3D technology provider Sensio. Additionally, box-office revenue for 3D is generally three to four times higher than its 2D version. In fact, Disney’s Meet the Robinsons 3D cut played on 18% of its screens but generated 30% of its total box-office earnings.

In response to widening consumer demand, theaters are increasingly building 3D screens. The current 1,500 U.S. 3D digital screen count should expand to 5,000 at the end of 2009.

“Theater owners see the revenue, and there is an increased pipeline of Hollywood content,” said Richard LaBerge, executive VP at Sensio. “In the next two years, there will be over 30 movies in 3D. That’s the biggest production we’ve seen since the ’50s.”

Because the 3D home entertainment opportunity is so attractive, TDVision will debut about 30 short films on Blu-ray with its 3D TDVCodec technology. Its 3D format can be watched on current Blu-ray players, following a firmware upgrade, according to the company. Any glasses that come with current 3D TVs will be compatible as well.

“This is the beginning of showing you the feasibility of the format,” said Ethan Schur, director of product marketing at TDVision. “We can do Blu-ray now.”

Philips is another 3D pioneer, creating some of the first 3D TVs that don’t require glasses. These auto-stereoscopic displays are built with dozens of micro lenses that transmit different images to the right and left eyes, all combining into 3D wizardry without the specs. Currently, Philips’ sets are mainly used for advertising purposes outside of the U.S., such as ones spread across Russia’s Kafe Hause retail chain. Also, Philips has demonstrated advanced 3D playback of New Line’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and Summit Entertainment’s Fly Me to the Moon via Blu-ray player onto its no-glasses 3D TVs.

“We are seeing ad hoc proposals with 3D in the home,” said Rob de Vogel, senior director of business creation at Philips. “People are saying that they want to start. But it will only be massively deployed in the living room once standards are there.”

By Susanne Ault, Video Business