Dolby Makes Push to Bring 3-D Home

Dolby Laboratories Inc, a company best known for its audio technology, is now targeting one of the most buzzed-about areas in video: bringing digital 3-D entertainment to the home. Dolby says it is currently talking with content providers about encoding its digital 3-D technology into Blu-ray movies. It declined to identify potential partners. The company is also working on getting its technology used in 3-D video games.

In its push into home 3-D, Dolby will face stiff competition in a nascent market. Many companies at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas will be showcasing various ways to bring 3-D into the living room. Meanwhile, the entertainment and consumer electronics industries are working to avoid any 3-D format war like the one that erupted between Blu-ray and HD-DVD. Dolby is already a player in digital 3-D cinema, having introduced its technology to theaters in 2007. It is now used on more than 400 screens in 24 countries.

"Millions of people are seeing it and going home and saying they want to see it at home" said Guido Voltolino, the company's director of business development.

Dolby's home 3-D technology is designed so viewers would not be required to buy additional hardware, he said. It would work on any 3-D enabled TV -- currently available from companies including Mitsubishi and Samsung -- with a standard Blu-ray player. Most 3-D entertainment requires the use of glasses, from simple polarized lens to costly pairs with extremely fast-moving shutters. Dolby said its technology would support whichever glasses the TV manufacturer specifies.

Audiences are warming to digital 3-D in theaters. Many people now head to their local cineplex to see movies such as Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3-D, and a number of major 3-D releases are planned for 2009. However, when 3-D movies are released on DVD and Blu-ray, the only choice is to see them in an older technology -- the more low-tech blue-and-red lens colored glasses.

The progress of digital home 3-D has been slowed by the lack of a unifying technology standard. Groups including the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) are working on ways to help standardize 3-D home entertainment.

Dolby said it presented its technology to the SMPTE group in September and "received some very positive feedback." The company said it is now looking to inform "key industry stakeholders." Dolby added that its approach to 3-D is completely "backwards compatible," and will not disrupt any standards currently being used.

Panasonic has reportedly proposed a 3-D Blu-ray standard to the BDA.

By Gabriel Madway, Thomson Reuters