Mixed Signals

3DTV: Challenges and Opportunities In Q4 2010

11/06/2010 2:13 AM

Recent investigations of this new TV opportunity, 3 dimensional television, suggest it will create a path to eventual success that will be quite different from its predecessors, such as high-definition TV.

On the good side, we must always remember: we see in 3D. Thus, the idea of morphing video to that level has to eventually be attractive. Anything in video that replicates lifelike activity has instant promise.

And on the good side are the revenues that many in the video distribution chain will accrue.

Plus, if consumers like it better, they are the beneficiaries, as well.

On the other hand, part of the problem for 3DTV is the fact that the technology is far more complex than its format cousin, HDTV.

For one, there is complexity in wearing mandatory glasses. 3DTV currently requires that glasses be worn almost universally, be it in theatres or at home in the living room. There is movement toward what is termed auto-stereoscopic display 3DTV, which would eliminate the need for the glasses. However, most believe that in order to rise to that level and sophistication, the costs will remain high on the sets, and the timing to do it really well, is still years away.

Which leads to the next impediment: high costs.

Taking a look back at major platform transitions, e.g., from radio to TV, and from black and white to color, and even in the past 10 years, from standard definition to HDTV, each succeeding development could count on a broad deployment and a rather quick timeframe, meaning consequentially and quickly lower costs. But not many are predicting that just so quickly for 3DTV.

Indeed, recent surveys conducted by The Carmel Group suggest that most in today’s TV business believe that no more than 10% of video viewing in North America will come via a 3DTV format five years hence. In fact, most are quite skeptical of its future growth and the speed thereof.

Another impediment to 3DTV is the loss of social mobility and contact when donning 3DTV glasses. Worst among these examples would be people getting sick or injured. Indeed, the idea of not being able to see a critical part of someone’s face, i.e., their eyes, and all that tells us about what the other person is seeing and thinking, makes the idea of ditching the glasses even more attractive.

Plus, the cost of the glasses has ranged into the hundreds of dollars, which raises the specter of true sacrifice when it comes to losing or breaking the glasses between the cushions in one’s living room couch.

But to put the costs into perspective, one recent interviewee notes that somewhere between 5% and 10% gets added in Europe to the standard cost of an HDTV monitor when you add 3DTV capability. Thus, for perhaps 50-100 Euros more in Europe today, a buyer can possibly assure that his new HDTV set avoids becoming antiquated for 15 years, rather than seven to10 years, by adding that 3DTV capability for a relatively small additional sum. (That is part of the reason some European-based companies are being particularly aggressive when it comes to this new 3DTV technology.)

And what’s beyond 3DTV? Some are already talking about what is loosely termed “holographic TV.” Whether glasses, or helmets, or full-body suits are required for this and other future TV formats is another layer of complexity that most TV viewers today have yet to deal with.

Yet, don’t put it past some incredible imagineers who are looking to meld the best technology with a set of consumer electronics equipment that can make everyone on that side a lot of money. After all, isn’t that (a big part of) the name of the game?

Jimmy Schaeffler is chairman and CSO of Carmel-by-the-Sea-based consultancy The Carmel Group.