1, 2, 3-D, GO. AGAIN

Thu, 03/31/2011 - 12:46pm
Craig Kuhl

Sponsored by MOTOROLA

With the "Avatar" effect still in play, TV manufacturers, content providers and a gaggle of 3-D aficionados are continuing their efforts to resurrect 3-D. Here we go. Again.

This is at least the third time since 3-D was first brought to life in the 1950s that the industry has tried to revive the technology. Attempts once again started in theaters and have actually made the jump to TV screens, but this time it might be small screens that key the revival.

Smartphones, tablets and cell phones are adding 3-D, evidenced by Sprint and HTC's announced rollout of their stereoscopic (no glasses) 3-D smartphone this summer.

And Nintendo's 3DS, reportedly the world's first glasses-free 3-D gaming console, just hit the market, with more small screen 3-D on the way.

Advanced technology and more content, albeit not much, are both blessings and curses for 3-D. Building a business model around 3-D is high on the curses list, too.

So what's moving the 3-D needle? And why now? And what's inhibiting its migration into homes and beyond?

"Content is inhibiting 3-D TV, and consumers say they don't like the glasses. So why pay for a few hours of content each month and have to buy and wear 3-D glasses?" asked Paul Gray, director of European TV research at DisplaySearch.

Good question. With today's technology, 3-D simply doesn't work well for viewers watching at an oblique angle. The near-term answer may lie in better glasses, at least until glasses-free technologies such as object wave, stereoscopic, holographic projection and others allow the 3-D experience to be enjoyed by more than one person staring directly at a screen – large or small.

"The development of active and passive glasses is important, and there are ways of increasing the resolution of TV sets, but at a high price. The idea is to create an immersive experience with 3-D. We're just learning how to do that," said Michelle Abraham, principal analyst at In-Stat.

The 3-D experience is spreading to mobile devices, as well, which according to Motorola Mobility's director of product management Mark Schaffer makes sense.

"Mobile devices are much better suited for autostereoscopic 3-D TV," he said.

And no glasses are required. And that's a good thing.

"Handheld devices are glasses-free, and that works for small screens. So 3-D will excel there, but not near-term with bigger screens. The challenges in delivering stereoscopic technology are overflowing, like edge violation, ghosting, geometric distraction, divergence and more," maintains Dave Broberg, vice president of consumer video technology at CableLabs.

Translation: 3-D is being experimented with, big time. And most agree those overflowing challenges will take five years to solve before glasses-free 3-D TV is comfortably in your living room.

"There are developments in the glasses-free space, but not happening quickly. There are lots of problems to overcome before there's glasses-free TV. But it's now on the roadmap for service providers and manufacturers," said Brian Markwalter, vice president of research and standards for the Consumer Electronics Association.

The road isn't a free ride, however.

"The production costs are double to produce 3-D content. Those costs must be reduced. Cable and satellite providers are looking at 3-D very heavily, but cost-efficiently producing 3-D content is several years away, and that makes the revenue models difficult to justify," said Marco Lopez, senior vice president of infrastructure for Miranda Technologies.

But hey, wasn't HD's road to stardom blessed and cursed with similar stops and starts? And didn't In-Stat just predict more than 100 3-D channels by 2015?

Well, yes. But so what, some experts maintain.

Concluded Gray: "3-D is in the experiment and investment stage. It doesn't seem to have moved the income needle at the movies, and we don't see it in every HD lineup, so we're negative on 3-D TV and positive on 3-D gaming."

Positive or not, 3DTV is coming, and eventually sans glasses. In the meantime, the experiment continues. Again.

Sponsored by MOTOROLA


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