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Setting the stage for 3D TV

Posted: 21 Jan 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3D TV? flat-panel TV? consumer electronics? display market?

The consumer electronics industry is looking at its future through a pair of stereo 3D glasses. The left eye sees an opportunity to revive sagging TV and media revenues, the right eye sees a set of unresolved technical issues.

That was the somewhat bipolar picture from this year's Consumer Electronics Show. Attendees crowded booths to watch adrenaline-pumping 3D TV movies and sports while technologists packed panel sessions to sort through issues of incompatible formats and unfinished standards.

The business rationale is clear. TV unit shipments will rebound a modest six percent in 2010 after declining one percent in 2009, according to market watcher DisplaySearch. However revenues were down 10 percent due to a nine percent fall in global average selling prices, the first year of declining prices since the flat-panel TV transition began, the company added.

Similarly, studios have watched sales of movies on optical disks drop as much as 13 percent in 2009. Revenue from sales of content online is growing but not newly fast enough to make up for the losses.

For two years studios led by DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg have been saying they want to bring their premium 3D theatrical releases to the home as a way to bolster revenues. Somewhere on the road to CES 2010, the broadcasters and systems companies got on board.

Every major TV maker pledged at CES to ship 3D TVs by June or earlier. They made 3D TV demos the center of their huge show floor exhibits.

"Everyone is going at breakneck speed because we believe 3D will rejuvenate the consumer electronics business," said Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, chief technology officer of Panasonic North America. "We saw this CES as a watershed, so the first generation products may have some issues," he added.

As the bandwagon grows, so does the vision.

3D TV is "not a feature but a platform," said Tsuyuzaki. "It's not only about consumer electronics, but has applications in health care and engineering," he added.

"There will be new kinds of experiences opened up here because how many of us can afford, for example, a sideline ticket to the Super Bowl," said Buzz Hays, former stereographer at Disney, now part of Sony Pictures Imageworks.

Indeed, companies are already making plans for stereo 3D consumer cameras and camcorders that will arrive "way earlier than five years from now," said Tsuyuzaki.

"The fact that YouTube can already support stereo 3D makes it very interesting," said Nandhu Nandhakumar, senior VP of advanced technology at LG. "The 3D wave has snowballed, and I think the speed at which it happened has caught many people by surprise," he said.

An online survey of about 2,000 U.S. adults provided a cautionary note.

About a third said they saw a 3D movie in the last year, 80 percent of those said they enjoyed it and a quarter of the total group said they would buy a 3D TV within three years. However, they also said they would expect to pay $1,000 or less.

Although TV makers did not announce prices at CES, most 3D TVs are expected to cost three times that or more. LG launched a 3D TV in Korea in August for $3,000. Toshiba's Cell TV could sell for $10,000 in the United States.

"They will be the Cadillacs of the display market," said Shawn DuBravac, director of research at the Consumer Electronics Association, co-author of the study. The smallest 3D TV set he saw on the CES show floor was a 46-inch model, he added.

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