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Panasonic boosts production of 3-D TV sets

While many might not agree with the Consumer Electronics Association's sales predictions of 1 million to 2 million 3-D TV sets to be sold this year, there's at least one true believer.

Citing higher than expected demand, Panasonic has announced plans to increase production of its 3-D HDTV sets after only a month of sales. The Panasonic VT25, the company's first 3-D model, got “a very strong reaction,” said Hirotoshi Uehara, the head of Panasonic's consumer TV business.

Although it would not provide specific numbers, Panasonic said the U.S. unit allocation for the VT25 sold out in just over one week, which a good sign for early sales of 3-D TV set models and an indication that at least some early adopters are willing to buy a new set so soon after they've purchased a new HDTV set.

In a report in the Financial Times, Uehara said that Panasonic's plasma panel factory has seen its production capacity increased by 30 percent to handle the unexpectedly high sales numbers. The increased production capacity will hopefully fulfill U.S. demand and allow the company to prepare for the TV's Japanese and European launch in the next two months.

Panasonic was one of the first companies to put 3-D TVs on sale, and Uehara's comments are one of the first signs that the much-hyped technology is proving popular with consumers.

TV manufacturers hope to ride the wave of interest in 3-D started by the box office success of James Cameron's “Avatar.” Panasonic's 3-D TVs are scheduled for launch in Japan in late April followed by Europe in May. Uehara said that orders were rising “day by day.”

He noted that dealers said what persuades buyers is the risk of buying an expensive TV that becomes obsolete because it cannot handle 3-D.

Panasonic has been one of the most vocal promoters of 3-D TV, along with Sony, Samsung and LG. Panasonic is betting that 3-D will boost interest in its plasma TV technology, which has lost ground to LCD in recent years. A 3-D TV needs to show two images, for the left and right eyes, rather than just one. That makes the speed of updating the screen vital for a good picture. Plasma technology is somewhat faster than LCD, so displayed images might look a bit sharper on some models.

Uehara also said that he sees opportunities for 3-D beyond the consumer market. “My thinking is that 3-D shouldn't just be limited to broadcast TV; it should reach a range of industries, such as video conferencing or PowerPoint presentations,” Uehara said. “That, in turn, will boost the size of the [3-D display market].”