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Digital Hollywood faces dry spell

Posted: 06 Feb 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Digital Hollywood? 3D TV? 4K TV?

During a recent trip down Digital Hollywood, I saw a town searching for the next big thing. The view from Digital Hollywood looked pretty rough for me. 3D TVs have been a disappointment, 4K TV (aka Ultra HDTV) is pretty much a useless luxury, quality video is has been in the backburner for today's wireless world and nobody buys any movies anymore.

Two Digital Hollywood insiders I talked to in a recent trip there expressed optimism given the breadth and pace of activity these days. Still, I see a town in search of the next big thing.

After its big debut a couple years ago, 3D TV was hardly mentioned at the recent Consumer Electronics Show and broadcasters have pulled the plug on some 3D channels. The lack of content and the need for glasses are both taking the blame for 3D's fizzle in the home.

Some had high hopes for the auto stereoscopic approach Philips pioneered. But few think Dolby, which now owns the technology, has the clout to drive it forward. After a big belly flop, climbing back on the diving board is harder.

Samsung is pushing 3D TV forward with work on a Bluetooth standard for active shutter glasses with backing from Panasonic and Sony. It also set up a facility in South Korea to convert 2D content to 3D.

Live sports is a big missing piece. "If the Super Bowl was broadcast in 3D, this would be a different discussion," said Brad Hunt, principal of Digital Media Directions.

The Ultra HDTV (4K x 2K) displays at CES seem to have left everyone cold. To really see all those extra pixels you need the equivalent of a 96-inch home TV, but even the more standard size screens are way too expensive for the average Joe, I am told.

The trouble is without a next big thing like 3D or 4K, TVs remain stuck with their role as a commodity product. "We are back to TV sets sold by the inch so it's hard for anyone to make a profitand 4K is potentially a race to the bottom," said Andrew G. Setos, chief executive of Blackstar Engineering and a veteran audio-visual engineer.

"I think the improvement could come in truly lower cost of manufacturingnot by lower labour costs but a new mechanism that may be protected by patentsthen TV manufacturers could make profits, but until then they are in a world of hurt," he said.

Media server, anyone?
Meanwhile the tech world is gaga over wireless and the Web, distribution channels poorly suited to premium video, Setos added. "Wireless is too expensive to handle large objects like movies and TV shows well [and] TCP/IP is not well suited to truly popular audio-visual content, either," Setos said.

The trouble for Hollywood is that consumers seem content to stream movies and TV shows. They don't want to shell out the money to buy them.

There's some hope that could change. Kaleidescape, for example, could use the cool user interface for its media server to make it fun to have a digital movie library, said Hunt. Studios and online retailers could hammer out deals to create disc-to-digital services that help consumer's kick start their collections, he added.

But there's heavy lifting here solving the old digital rights issues. The Ultraviolet initiative of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem is plugging away at the problems, and there are plenty of them.

Studios need to start publishing movies in the Common File Format to enable digital-rights transactions under the Ultraviolet approach. TV makers and apps developers need to create UV players. And everybody needs to do a whole lot of interoperability testing.

"In 2013 we will see how aggressive studios get to launch movie ownership again," said Hunt who works with the folks at Ultraviolet.

I'm not holding my breath. Digital Hollywood continues to be a fascinating place, but not one that I hold any great expectations for in the near term.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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