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3DTV is inevitable, but will anyone use it?

by David Mercer

At the recent Blu-ray Academy 3D conference in Hamburg, Germany I presented Strategy Analytics’ vision for the future of 3D in the home, focusing on the European market opportunity. We are clear that 3D in the home is going to happen, and more rapidly than some observers seem to think.

(I was surprised recently at the response to our recent 3D forecasts by the normally reliable CEA, whose Chief Economist Shawn DuBravac described them as “the worst forecast yet”. I worry for the CEA’s own forecasts if this overreaction reflects the quality of their analysis. Since we published our 3D analysis, several other analyst firms have come out with similar pictures, and the industry itself also seems to be in broad agreement. Time for the CEA to clarify why it’s out of line, perhaps.)

In spite of the CEA’s scepticism, we estimate that some 15% of European homes already own a digital TV set-top box which is 3D-capable, and nearly as many own a 3D-ready games console. The number of homes with 3D-ready TVs is very low, of course, but now growing quickly as 3D becomes a more common feature on plasma and LCD TVs. By 2014 more than 40% of European homes will have a 3D-ready TV, and nearly a quarter will own a 3D Blu-ray disc player.

In spite of these projections there is still a lot of work to be done to dispel some of the uncertainty surrounding 3D. Our European surveys (carried out in Q3 2010) indicated low levels of understanding of 3D issues. Only just over a half of Europeans correctly believed that 3D TVs were available to purchase: the remainder were uncertain or believed wrongly that it is not possible to buy a 3D TV. Likewise, barely half of Europeans know that you need glasses to watch a 3DTV at home. The greatest lack of knowledge surrounds the health impact of 3D TV: only 32% of Europeans believe that watching 3D TV does not cause damage to the eyes: half are unsure and 17% believe it does cause damage.

These are big communications challenges for all industry players to overcome. Nevertheless there is evidence of strong interest in 3D TV, with two thirds of Europeans interested in watching 3D movies and nearly a half interested in 3D versions of TV shows. As the base of installed 3D-ready hardware grows, the opportunity now lies with television content producers to make the most of this opportunity. If that content doesn’t materialise people may never see a need to put on the goggles.

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Prospects for 3D in the home

There has been a lot of hype about 3D TV. But the industry getting behind a broad realm of technologies is a far cry from a monetisable mass market. Fundamentally, 3D is complex, more so than HD as technology and ecosystem. Screen Digest' TOM MORROD examines the issue.

This complexity will be reflected in uptake of 3D. It is often said that 3D is easier for consumers to 'see' than HD, thus driving true demand. But it can be countered that a market is not just about demand. It is about supply, price and information - all in questionable quantities.

Supply is a big piece of the puzzle and crucially, like HD, 3D is an ecosystem. It is certainly about the TV receiver, polarised or active switching; the glasses (easily forgotten but not necessarily 'in the box'). But it also takes in the decoding device - set-top box, games console or BD player; the distribution medium (broadcast/unicast), games console or 3D BD; the content and the process of capture, editing and contribution, including broadcasting infrastructure when not printed to disc.

Only about 20 per cent of broadcaster equipment is HD, 30 per cent of TV screens and less than that of set-top boxes. We are still in a very early stage of actual upgrade across the HD ecosystem. And while the HD infrastructure across broadcasters and operators can be used to transmit lower resolution 3D to some existing HD PVRs, all those TV screens will need replacing.

Price is a murky issue spanning both consumer and professional equipment. Many of the early announced prices for 3D TV sets are considerable inflations on similar non-3D TVs. This is especially true for passive polarised, where more technology is built into the display. However, active switching, offering screens at similar prices to non-3D displays, have a hidden cost: the glasses may cost up to $150 a pair, a major consumer cost.... Read More...