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What's the next big application?

Posted: 04 Jan 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:technology application? smart grid? touchscreen? OLED? MEMS?

Given 3D's blemished record, it's fair to ask why the consumer electronics world is so fired up.

3D in the living room
3D for the home, courtesy of a new-generation Blu-ray players and 3D TV sets, is coming soon to a store near you. Panasonic, Sony and their content-producing partners are hell-bent on providing it. The question is whether you'll want it.

Panasonic is betting you'll be dazzled by the 3D clips from James Cameron's "Avatar" that it will air at its Consumer Electronics Show booth next month. Sony hopes to score with sports fans when its professional-grade 3D video cameras capture the action at the 2010 World Cup soccer classic for delivery on Blu-ray disk.

Seemingly not since the dawn of the DVD have consumer electronics vendors devoted so much marketing attention and so many dollars to an app.

Given 3D's blemished record, it's fair to ask why the consumer electronics world is so fired up. Proponents assert that this time around, the technology has a tailwind.

Koji Hase, a former Toshiba executive who was instrumental in getting the industry to coalesce around a single DVD format, noted that when the consumer electronics industry launched DVD in the mid-1990s, CE vendors had to go to Hollywood hat in hand get movies released on disk. Now, he said, "it's the studios who are asking CE companies to launch 3D Blu-rays and 3D TVs."

The difference, he said, is that 3D is a stunning departure from the status quo. "I was impressed when I first saw DVD. But when it comes to my first encounter with 3D, honestly, the 'wow factor' [was] four times bigger," said Hase, now president of worldwide consumer electronics for 3D technology company Real D.

What hasn't changed is that the goofy glasses are still required. That's a potential hurdle to consumer acceptance, because home viewers who are accustomed to multitasking might no longer be able to hit the treadmill or tackle paperwork while watching a 3D film or sporting event on the tube.

Formats are another sticking point. While there will be a single standard for 3D Blu-ray disks and players, the market is likely to see fragmented 3D display technologies for TVs. And broadcasters, looking to maximize their audience reach for the minimum infrastructure investment, hope to offer 3D programs in a format different from the 120Hz, full-HD frame sequential method adopted by the Blu-ray Disc Association.

Speculation abounds in Japan over whether flat-panel TV makers will be willing to offer multiformat 3D sets. It might make technological sense to do so, but it's a costly proposition that could inflate final pricing.

And that could blow the home 3D market off course, tailwind notwithstanding.

- R. Colin Johnson, Mark LaPedus, Rick Merritt, Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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