Thoughts from CES: The Diffusion of 3D
By Gary Sasaki, DIGDIA
Last year can be characterised as the ‘coming out party’ for consumer 3D entertainment. The 2010 CES week which happened in Las Vegas last month was filled with 3D news from just about every major CE vendor. While several 3D TV products were on sale prior to 2010, the general public never really noticed because only a few models existed and 3D games were about the only way to enjoy 3D content on them.
Why was 3D suddenly hot in 2010? In late 2009 the consumer was fired up by Avatar. Then, the Blu-ray standard for 3D was announced. Then several major brand name 3D TVs were announced, followed by 3D channel announcements by ESPN, Discovery and Sky, and 3D services by Comcast, DirecTV and others. Suddenly, the 3D ecosystem appeared to be coming together, barring a few ‘technical details’ that most people ignored or were not aware of (and that still exist).
Now for 2011 we might say that consumer 3D is in a ‘diffusion mode’. It is not surprising to see such diffusion, just rare when a single concept, in this case 3D, can cause such a rippling effect across so many areas all at once. The big splash in the 3D pond is now rippling out in four key ways:
Whereas 2010 was primarily focused on 3D TVs and Blu-ray players, 2011 saw announcements in just about every product category that one could apply 3D to, plus one or two that stretch the definition. The list includes TVs, Blu-ray players, projectors, glasses, camcorders, cameras, picture frames, PC monitors, notebook PCs, tablets, multimedia players, printers (a small stretch here), phones, handheld games, security cameras, remote controls, and sound systems.
A comment about so-called ‘3D Sound’: several vendors at CES positioned their sound bars and surround speaker systems as 3D Sound. It reminds one of when everything was suddenly ‘HD’ a half-dozen years ago. While you might be laughing, it would be interesting to see what the consumer thinks. Sound bars and surround speaker systems do, after all, try to create a sense of 3D sound. So, it is not an unforgivable stretch of the 3D term if it helps the consumer ‘get it’.
Whereas 2010 was dominated by big brands such as Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, and LG among others, 2011 saw just about every second-tier brand and a few third-tier brands jump into 3D. You will soon be able to watch 3D TV on products from 25 brands. In addition, there are many other brands that will be offering 3D products in some of the other product categories previously mentioned.
All of these new brands mean companies will have to differentiate 3D offerings in some way, which takes us to the next topic.
2010 3D technology was dominated by active shutter glasses-based 3D. There were very few exceptions. For example, TVs based on micropolarization were rare and came from brands such as Hyundai. Active shutter technology is relatively easy to include in a TV. Much of the cost for 3D was pushed into the optional IR emitter and active glasses. So, a person buying a 3D TV didn’t have to pay for much of the 3D feature if they didn’t want to, although 3D TVs were at the high end because you needed good underlying display performance.
Now in 2011, after complaints about the price of these glasses, vendors have rushed out products that use other methods, including mostly micropolarization, lenticular lens and parallax barrier.
It should be noted that each of these 3D TV products has at least one major compromise in 3D performance or price. The technology does exist for a better 3D TV than those shown at 2011 CES, and some companies are working on it. We are not talking about ‘glasses free’, but, since we are talking about proprietary plans, we will just leave it at this.
This area is the weak part of the group. It can be argued that 2011 will see more 3D networks (even porn), more 3D Blu-ray disks, more 3D games, and more 3D advertisements; but, all of these categories existed in 2010. And, while we will see more of all this 3D content, the overall volumes will still be modestly small.
There is one major exception – the newest element in consumer 3D in 2011 will be consumer-generated content (or, many like to call this, user-generated content, or UGC). This change is due to the many new, and often affordable, 3D capture devices for video and photos. Depending upon your budget, you will soon be able to whip out your 3D camcorder from your bag or pocket and view it immediately in 3D, or later on your 3D TV.
A. Marchon 3D will be offering designer 3D glasses, compatible with RealD, under a number of fashion names, such as Nautica and Nike.
B. Panasonic showed a prototype TV remote control that you wave around in the air, matching the 3D user interface on the screen.
C. LG has a high-end projector that actually has two projectors in it, one for each eye, so you can simultaneously view left and right images through passive glasses.
D. LG showed an ultra-definition TV (4 times the pixels of HDTV) that does not sacrifice resolution when used with passive 3D glasses.
E. JVC introduced a consumer 3D camcorder with two complete sets of optics and sensors for full 1080 3D that you can view on your 3D TV display.
F. Panasonic has a 3D lens attachment for its 2D digital camera where left and right images are captured side-by-side.
G. ViewSonic had a number of new 3D devices, including this low-cost 3D camera.
H. Toshiba was just one of the notebook vendors to show off a 3D display.
I. Samsung has some 3D monitors that can convert 2D images into 3D images in real time.
J. Burton can paint a true 3D image in space, which might remind some people of a scene in Star Wars.
K. 3D phones were not talked about publicly, but you could tell that they are waiting in the wings.
L. There was even a wireless 3D camera that sent its images in anaglyph for viewing on 2D displays.
M. Several companies talked about 3D Sound which were either sound bars or multi-speaker systems (previously known as 5.1 surround sound).
N. Tablets and pads were everywhere at CES, and some had autostereoscopic displays, such as this one.
O. Autostereoscopic displays can also be practical for viewing portable Blu-ray disk players, such as this one from Sony.
P. Kodak allows you to take your stereo photos and print them in anaglyph format for viewing through coloured 3D glasses.
Q. Sony was showing a prototype set of wearable displays – and since you have two displays, you get 3D.
So, is 3D here to stay?
Many people at CES pointed to a prediction that over 3 million 3D TVs would be sold in 2010, but perhaps only 1 million were actually sold. Does this mean that 3D was a disappointment? Does this mean that 3D will be a flash in the pan like it was in 1952? Or, is 3D now ready for every consumer, now that we have all these announcements from CES?
The answer to all of the above is ‘No’. Firstly, remember that 3D products, services and content only had half a year on the market in 2010. Most people give a major new concept multiple years to get traction. Secondly, 3D is such a fundamental part of the human experience that it is here to stay, one way or another. Thirdly, 3D is an entertainment medium that does not apply well to everything, particularly when it still has some important user experience compromises, as it does today.
Stay tuned for the 2012 CES!
Gary Sasaki is the President of DIGDIA. DIGDIA helps companies find growth opportunities, create winning strategies and business plans in the digital entertainment value chain through market reports and consulting. DIGDIA has just published the Digital 3D Entertainment, Practical Realities and Opportunities report that explains the value chain and technologies from the production of 3D movies, 3D exhibition, 3D television services and 3D consumer electronics.
Copyright HiddenWires 2011.
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