Taiwan’s Role in the 3D Industry

I am here in Taiwan attending the first 3D Forum and visiting with a number of companies. This afternoon, I moderated a 3D Forum panel discussion that focused on gaining an understanding of the Taiwanese industry’s position on 3D and figuring out how best to participate in its future. I asked a series of tough questions and received some good answers. But, many questions were difficult to answer.

For example, when asked if they thought the 3D consumer market was just another passing fad or a real change in the industry, there was agreement that 3D is here to stay. But, panelists warned, the transition will take time, probably 5 to 10 years.

We discussed if the transition was like the one from SD to HD, and they agreed that there are many aspects that are similar, but this transition will be more difficult. There will be a similar focus on resolution and other performance factors, but what is different is the way the image is viewed. With stereo 3D, human factors now come into play in the evaluation and impact of the display — a totally new factor that will be hard to evaluate. Interestingly, one panelist likened the transition to the establishment of a consumer PC industry.

I asked which of the following four categories was the most important one to work on: 3D content creation; 3D content distribution; 3D displays and products; or the business model. The unanimous answer was the business model.

An audience participant questioned this, saying that business models existed for premium content, like charging more in the cinemas for 3D. There was more discussion about this, but my take away was that business models do exist at the consumer level, but not necessarily throughout the full value chain. That is, everyone involved in the roll out of 3D to the consumer needs to find a way to make money, and the answers remain elusive in many parts of this chain.

For example, a pay per view model for a 3D event works for consumers, but how about the cable operator or the event producer? Will there be enough paying subscribers to make money? Will advertisers support it?

Panelists also said they need to have a better idea of what the consumer wants, what they consider valuable and what they will pay for in 3D. Remember, most Taiwanese companies are OEM/ODM manufacturers, so they don’t have the same level of access to the end users that their customers, the brands, often have. But in the case of 3D, it is so new that the brands don’t have this either.

As a result, some urged that products be developed that were not overly ambitious, but offered some value that could be tested in the market to gauge reaction. On the other hand, they also advised that having a roadmap for where they thought the 3D industry was headed would help to guide near- and mid-term development efforts.

I asked where Taiwan thought it had strengths in the 3D industry and heard the following: LCDs, projectors, LEDs, optics, computers and IT — all with high volume manufacturing. Taiwan seems to have a number of key elements, but no plan to address the 3D opportunity as a whole.

One interesting opportunity was identified — work more with the Chinese movie industry to develop content and products to bolster the creation and display of more Chinese 3D movies. But for Taiwan’s fledgling digital content creation community to grow, it needs more distribution channels. And it must find ways to cost effectively create derivative 3D products without having to re-master for different screen sizes and platforms — a need shared by the entire industry. And what is in short supply? Experienced stereographers.

Taiwan would like to bring new and innovative 3D technology to its OEM/ODM customers, but it needs to protect these ideas with good patents. Understanding the patent situation was identified as a need, but it was also noted that this will be a difficult task to accomplish.

Overall, my take away was that the panel was cautiously optimistic about the future of 3D in the home. But it also had an OEM/ODM mentality toward 3D — we will produce it when our customers want it. But if Taiwan wants to be a leader and not a follower, it will have to have a different attitude. But without strong consumer brands, is this even possible? Only time will tell.

By Chris Chinnock, Display Daily