3-D gear, programming begins to take hold

Shipments of 3-D-capable TV sets and Blu-ray 3-D players are on the rise in the United States as more sports and movie programming becomes available to viewers.

Shipments of 3-D TVs could reach 3.4 million by the end of 2010, a sharp increase from the 214,000 units that shipped last year, according to research firm DisplaySearch. That, coupled with an increasing live 3-D sports programming lineup and more 3-D movies being released, means that audiences are now finally getting a fair shot at trying out the new medium.

In the first three months since their respective launches, 3-D TV sets and Blu-ray sales exceeded $55 million in the United States, the NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service found. That figure is now poised to rise rapidly as new lower-cost 3-D hardware hits retail stores.

The availability of more 3-D movies is leading to greater interest in new 3-D sets, said Paul Gray, director of research at DisplaySearch. “The formation of a 3-D Blu-ray specification at the end of 2009 gave confidence that 3-D was a consumer format and not just for movie theaters,” he said.

A new generation of 3-D TV sets is being introduced at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin on Sept. 3, and prices are falling. Last March, Samsung introduced a new lineup of 3-D TVs with a basic 40in LCD UN40C7000 model priced at $1999. The same TV is now available on Amazon.com for $1499.98 and on B&H Photo and Video’s website for $1699.

Looking into the future, DisplaySearch predicted that 3-D TV shipments will reach about 42.9 million units in 2014. For now, consumers have to wear a separate pair of glasses to watch 3-D TV, but several companies are researching 3-D TVs that do not require glasses.

3-D is also taking a global hold. Europe’s first 3-D channel, Sky 3D, will go live Oct. 1. Sky will offer a range of live sports, including Premier League football, and all Sky+HD viewers with a 3-D TV will be able to receive Sky 3D, because no set-top box upgrade is required. Sky will not charge extra for viewing 3-D content.

Regarding live programming, Turner Sports will present 3-D coverage of the 92nd PGA Championship on Aug. 12 and 13 from Whistling Straits golf course in Kohler, WI. The 3-D coverage will be carried by pay-TV operators Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox Communications, DirecTV and Time Warner Cable as well as streamed on PGA.com.

Turner will use four 3-D rigs on each hole, with two located near the tee box and two alongside the green. One camera near the tee will be placed behind the golfer to capture the traditional look toward the green. Another will be placed low and to the side to give the 3-D viewer the effect of standing in the gallery.

ESPN plans to broadcast 13 college football games in 3-D on its new ESPN 3D network this fall. The initial 3-D telecasts feature three of the top five ranked teams in ESPN.com’s early preseason Top 25 poll.

Sponsored by Sony, the 3-D broadcasts will begin on Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. EST with No. 2 Boise State facing No. 5 Virginia Tech at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. Next up, on Sept. 11 at 3:40 p.m. EST, is the defending Big Ten Conference champion No. 3 Ohio State versus host No. 19 Miami of the ACC. The third 3-D game of the season will feature Clemson of the ACC versus host Auburn of the SEC on Sept. 18, with a 7 p.m. kickoff.

ESPN has been experimenting with several new camera systems for college football to get dynamic 3-D shots without conflicting with traditional 2-D camera positions or creating too many expensive “seat kills” in stadiums, said Chris Calcinari, vice president of event operations. One innovation is a robotic 3-D camera rig mounted on a 20ft to 25ft pole that will be placed on a cart and moved up and down the sideline.