The best of times, the worst of times for 3-D

If one were to judge the importance of 3-D stereoscopic equipment by the exhibits and hoopla at either NAB or IBC this year, the conclusion might be, “Wow!” Virtually every exhibitor with video production and distribution products claimed to be in the 3-D space with solutions. If you privately asked these same vendors what they thought about 3-D, however, quite a different perspective is often found. It's one thing to portray a company as highly involved in 3-D while at a show; it's quite another to actually bet its future on the technology.

No doubt 3-D movies continue to be hot-ticket items. According to Screen Digest, 80 percent of the $749 million in box office receipts for “Avatar” came from the 3-D version. About 50 percent of the revenues from both Disney's “Up” and Warner's “Clash of the Titans” were sourced to 3-D theaters. U.S. broadcasters Discovery, ESPN and DIRECTV have launched 3-D TV channels, and both Virgin and BSkyB launched 3-D broadcasts in the UK in late September. Add to that the stereoscopic tsunami from all of the 3-D TV sets being released, and one might conclude that 3-D is here and now.


In response to my question about the importance of 3-D TV technology, at Grass Valley's IBC press conference, the company's senior vice president, Jeff Rosica, stated the obvious, “We don't make televisions.” He continued by reinforcing the point that Grass Valley would continue to support customers who needed 3-D solutions but characterized much of today's 3-D production work as still “experimental.” He's right: We don't yet have a complete set of 3-D standards.

As confirmation of his viewpoint, Rosica's comments were echoed by every IBC vendor to whom I asked the same question. The bottom line for the production equipment vendors is that they will provide 3-D solutions as requested by their customers, but these vendors aren't betting their company's future on 3-D products — at least not yet.

Broadcasters and content producers also can take with a grain of salt the shouts from the consumer electronics industry about the huge success of 3-D TV sales. A report from DisplaySearch says that only 5 percent of TVs sold this year have 3-D capability. Yes, it's early in the product development and sales cycle, but with all the CES hoopla, I expected a more rapid adoption rate. Certainly there are plenty of 3-D sets available.

One problem is that 3-D content is scarce. You only need about 6in of shelf space to stock all the 3-D movie titles now available. Screen Digest says that while about 25 3-D movies may become available over the next year, only a half dozen are now available in the United States. In fact, the official Blu-ray website lists only four 3-D titles.

Despite all of these challenges, I'm a big fan of 3-D TV. Oh sure, I know you have to wear those funny-looking, dark glasses, and you're locked into a fixed viewing position. But after a long day at the office, I can think of nothing better than sitting in my darkened home theater, cold beverage on hand, a 3-D title on the big screen, wearing those weird glasses and — snoozing.

With today's required 3-D eyewear, no one knows if I'm watching TV or just taking a nap. BE

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