3DTV 2010 Event: Consumer Adoption Remains Key to 3D

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With a number of high-profile events already in the can, 3D service is ready to break out of the gates with ESPN showcasing the World Cup in the format next month. However, consumer adoption still has a very long way to go before the emerging technology comes close to approaching critical mass.

"This definitely is the year that everybody's converging on 3D except for one person and that's the consumer," said HDMI licensing president Steve Venuti at the 3DTV conference co-sponsored by Multichannel News, Broadcasting & Cable, TWICE and other NewBay Media publications at the Roosevelt Hotel here May 25. The panel was moderated by MCN technology editor Todd Spangler.

The panelists said that the 3D viewer experience is so compelling, it is just a matter of time before the standard becomes an accepted entertainment medium. "[There is] definitely a consumer acceptance piece that's going to drive the overall adoption of 3D," said Motorola Devices and Home Motorola vice president/general manager Larry Robinson. "The networks are ready. The boxes are ready. There's a path to deliver that experience today."

But consumer adoption poses some considerable challenges since the service requires additional bandwidth, 3D viewer guides are not currently available and there is limited amount of formatted content available. That has focused much of the hype around 3D to big-name live sporting events, such as ESPN's production and Comcast's distribution of The Masters in 3D and ESPN's upcoming World Cup coverage of 25 matches from South Africa.

"It literally made the golf course come alive," said Comcast Advanced Business and Technology Development senior vice president Mark Hess of the Masters in 3D.

Hess and DirecTV new media and business development senior vice president Steven Roberts both touted their 3D content offerings as the best in the industry, with Roberts discussing the DBS leader's 3D testing shot at Anaheim Stadium ahead of Major League Baseball's All-Star Game at the venue on July 13.

"If there's a subscriber out there that wants 3D, we'll have the most consistent 3D [content]," he told the audience, adding, "Our infrastructure is certainly ready."

SES World Skies CTO Alan Young said there is bandwidth on the satellites to deliver 3D, but noted that distributors must be efficient since 3D sends two images through the pipes. Viewers only see about 1% the number of bits on their screen of what is actually produced already, he said. Young also issued a warning about the dangers of giving viewers a poor 3D experience.

"If you produce bad HD, then you have a bad picture," he said. "If you have bad 3D, you will produce headaches and nausea in the viewer."

Despite those caveats, the executives still seemed mostly optimistic that 3D will continue to pique consumer interest. "It's definitely a chicken and egg thing," said Young. "Critical mass will be reached when 3D is economically beneficial," which will come about when more viewers purchase 3D-ready equipment.

Hess said there were a number of issues, "some technical, some behavioral. But because the viewer experience is so good, it's going to happen."

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