Lack of Content Clouds 3D TV Picture

The world's first experiment in marketing three dimensional television is struggling, with only a few hundred television sets sold since their launch in Japan last April, the Financial Times has learnt. Hyundai of Korea became the world's first company to market a 3D television, but people involved in retailing the product say it has not sold because of a lack of 3D content.

At present, available content includes 3D dolphins, hula dancing and women's professional wrestling. The world's big TV manufacturers will be eager to learn lessons from Japan's experiment. Most are developing 3D products, which they see as the next big innovation in TVs, and a chance to sell every household in the world a new screen. Hyundai and BS11 Digital, the Japanese TV station that is the world's first to broadcast in 3D, say their goals are to differentiate their brands, gain experience of what works in 3D and position themselves for when the technology takes off.

US cinemas are converting to digital 3D, and Titanic director James Cameron is shooting his next film, Avatar, in 3D. TV companies hope to bring that experience into the home.

The system on sale in Japan, which has been adopted by British Sky Broadcasting in the UK, uses a liquid crystal display to show left and right images simultaneously. As in 3D cinemas, the viewer has to wear polarising glasses to see the 3D image.

At present, however, Hollywood content is not available in Japan and BS11 Digital only broadcasts in 3D for 30 minutes to an hour every day. "I often talk about the chicken and egg problem. You can talk about which comes first [TV sets or content], but someone has to go forward, which is why we have launched our service," said Natsumi Isobe, the team leader for 3D broadcasting at BS11 Digital.

As well as the issue of content, 3D is being hampered by the lack of broadcast or DVD technical standards. Panasonic says it wants to launch the displays in 2010 but is waiting for a standard to be agreed for encoding 3D on Blu-ray DVDs.

"I think the way that 3D is going to be deployed to the consumer is via Blu-ray," said Dr Peter Bocko, an expert in display technologies at glassmaker Corning.

There will also need to be changes to sell 3D in shops. At the flagship electronics store of Bic Camera in Tokyo's Yurakucho district, shoppers trying the 3D sets were giving up in confusion. In the store's narrow aisles they cannot stand far enough away from the screen to see the 3D effect. At another store in Shinjuku, the sales assistant advised against buying a 3D set, saying the technology "is not serious".

By Robin Harding, The Financial Times