Panasonic Calls for 3DTV Standard This Year

Panasonic called for the industry to rally around standards this year for stereo 3-D high definition TVs so products can flow in 2010. The company sees Blu-ray disks as the optimal way to deliver the content and the Blu-ray Disc Association as the right forum to drive a consensus on it.

"Panasonic will take the lead in proposing a full HD standard," said Yoshi Yamada, chief executive of Panasonic Corp. of North America in a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show here.

The move is a savvy one for Panasonic because it positions the company as a leader in what will likely be a significant new era. However, it also lets it place the blame on the rest of the industry if efforts to resolve a host of thorny issues get bogged down.

"We are discussing this with other manufacturers and Hollywood studios," Yamada said. "To succeed there needs to be content," he added.

Indeed, Mitsubishi and Samsung already sell 3-D-Ready HDTVs, however to date they have had almost no content to play. To address that problem, Mitsubishi partnered with Nvidia at CES to show stereo 3-D PC games on its TV. Taking a step in that direction, the company said it will open a Blu-ray 3-D authoring center in Hollywood in February. The center will be equipped with a 103-inch plasma display and a 380-inch digital theater screen.

James Cameron, director of Titanic and an outspoken proponent of stereo 3-D, supported the move in a video talk at the press conference. Panasonic has supplied "a truckload" of equipment for Cameron's next movie, Avatar, a stereo 3-D movie to be released December 10, he said.

"3-D is not a gimmick any longer," Cameron said. "It's ready for prime time, and I am convinced in the future this is the way people will do their computing, watch their movies and see their TV," he said.

But getting to an industry standard will not be easy. Many established and startup companies including Philips, RealD, Sensio and many others are all promoting their own approaches. Standards will require the industry to agree on compression schemes, content formats, packaged media standards, interfaces and display technologies.

For example, with its push for support of 3-D at 1920 x 1080 resolutions, Panasonic is already crossing swords with Dolby Labs. Dolby, which already supplies 3-D technology to some theaters, is demonstrating for the first time at CES a technology for 3-D in the home.

Paul Liao, chief technology officer of Panasonic North America, said the Dolby approach uses slices of the red, green and blue color spectrum with finely tuned color filters. "We think the color is not acceptable, but that's up to the studios to decide that," he said.

Philips is pioneering an approach which does not require special glasses. However, it requires expensive displays supporting twice the resolution of today's HD screens to deliver full high def video. Liao noted the Philips technology uses lenticular lenses to split a single pixel into two or more images. The approach causes a blurring effect when viewers move their heads even a few inches.

"Everybody agrees no glasses are best and eventually we will get there but in the beginning we need glasses," said Liao.

A standard will also require a significant increase in the bandwidth of the HDMI connectors used widely on digital TVs and Blu-ray players today. The HDMI Licensing LLC that controls the spec announced tuesday it is nearly done on its next-gen spec, but did not say specifically if it will support the bandwidth requirements for HD stereo 3-D.

A task force part launched by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers is studying the requirements for a content format for stereo 3-D video. It is expected to report its findings by mid-March.

"If they can get consensus they could do that," said Wendy Aylsworth, the chief technologist of SMPTE in an interview here at CES."They will prefer to recommend a technology that is royalty free," she noted.

The Blu-ray group has set up a task force on stereo 3-D, but has not reported the status of its work to date. Panasonic "owns a lot of the IP that went into creating the Blu-ray standard," said Robert Perry, executive vice president of marketing of the Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company.

The effort also faces an economic challenge. OEMs are just starting to drive Blu-ray products to the mainstream. In a recession, many will be reluctant to respin chips and redesign systems for stereo 3-D versions of the drives so early in the product's life.

The DVD generation lasted nearly ten years, starting in 1997. The previous VCR had a twenty year life, starting about 1977. The format wars that ended with Blu-ray emerging triumphant ended shortly after last year's CES.

By Rick Merritt, EE Times