By the Numbers: Let’s Get Real – 3DTV is Advancing

By Jim Bottoms, Futuresource Consulting

We have been through the hype, been through the negative phase and now it’s time to get real. And the reality is that 3DTV for the home is making good progress – and with next year’s London Olympics set to go out in 3D, there is plenty of reason for continued optimism.

3DTV market statistics

Let’s begin with some key market statistics relating to the TVs. At present there are some 3.5 million 3DTVs in use in homes across Europe. By the time of next year’s Olympics, this is expected to have risen to more than 10 million.

Worldwide there are some 25 million 3D TVs in use currently and this is set to double by the time of next year’s Olympic Games opening ceremony. It will not just be in the USA and Europe that people enjoy this experience – 3D TV demand is growing throughout the world, with China being one of the fastest-growing markets.

The price premium for the 3D feature (compared to an equivalent set without 3D capability) is falling fast, and major TV manufacturers are now including 3D in more than 60% of their current large-screen TV model range. Currently, one in ten TVs being sold across the world features a 3D capability.

By 2015 it will be virtually impossible to buy a large-screen TV without 3D, in the same way as you cannot buy a standard-definition panel TV today – they are all high-definition-only.

3D broadcast activity

Around 15 broadcasters have already signed up to take a 3D feed from the Olympics 2012, and with the European football championship set to take place just a matter of weeks before, these two events are expected to combine to create significant consumer interest.

The global expansion in 3D broadcast activity has taken place on an almost unprecedented scale. In June 2010, 20 broadcasters around the world had commenced some form of 3D broadcast activity. This included Sky in the UK, Studio Canal in France, DirecTV, ESPN and Discovery in the USA and both Sky Perfect and Jcom in Japan.

By August 2011, just 14 months later, 60 companies have an involvement in 3D broadcasting, with countries such as Brazil, Slovakia, Russia, Estonia and a number of Middle Eastern countries being added to the list.

Leading pay-TV and IPTV operators planning 3D content (Includes both 3D broadcast tests and channel/on-demand service roll-out).

Apart from major events such as the Olympic Games, sport and movies are the two main content drivers behind consumer adoption, although it must be said that to date, 3D content availability is somewhat lacking and this will need to be addressed as the installed base of 3D receivers grows.

In essence that is the beauty of 3D, and it mirrors almost exactly what has happened in high definition. The installed base of sets will grow for all of the reasons highlighted above (falling price premium, setmaker push) and the availability of content will expand as more and more people own the technology.

The broadcasters, particularly the pay-TV companies, as highlighted, are playing their part – primarily driven by a need to retain subscribers and possibly build average revenue per user.

3D films

Hollywood is also showing a growing commitment, expanding the number of new-release movies shot in 3D, as well as re-visiting its catalogue and converting some of its past 2D successes ready for 3D exploitation. Of the theatrical new-release slate, some 44 titles will be shot in 3D this year compared with 15 in 2009.

Hollywood studios expect up to 25% of their release slate to be in 3D.

From the catalogue, ‘Titanic’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Matrix’ are all expected to see a 3D re-release – with James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ looking particularly impressive from some of the early demos. Over time, this will boost the 3D Blu-ray disc title availability with some 50 new 3D titles expected this year and growing to 85 new 3D releases by 2014.

Glasses-free 3D

Of course all of this is focused around consumers being prepared to wear glasses in order to enjoy their content in 3D. There clearly has been some resistance to this and even with cheaper and lighter-weight versions now becoming available, glasses are going to remain an obstacle for some consumers.

So how long is it until we reach the ‘holy grail’ of glasses-free 3D?

We are certainly seeing a lot of activity on this front and a number of different technologies are being pursued. That said, it is still early days and the challenge is not just to create a solution for the small-screen single-viewer experience, but to fulfil the needs of the family group viewing on a large screen, and at a consumer-affordable price. This is something that will definitely take time.

In the interim, the push from broadcasters, setmakers and programme producers will continue to drive the growth in 3D at home. Key events such as the Olympics will add significant fuel to the fire.

Glasses-free 3D may just be starting to impact for the Olympics in 2016, but more likely it will be 2020 before an addressable market of TV owners exists.

Jim Bottoms is a Director at Futuresource Consulting, a specialist research and knowledge-based consulting firm with a heritage stretching back to the 1980s. The company provides market insights into consumer electronics, digital imaging, entertainment media, broadcast, optical manufacturing, storage media, professional IT and education technology.

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