As the 3D TV hype continues to flow, we separate the hope from the hype when it comes to this latest technology.

Rumours about the launch 3D TV have slowly been building momentum over the past few years.

They were further fuelled by the number of sets on display at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, with manufacturers gushing about an 'Avatar effect' and hoping for a surge in high-end TV sales.

But on the sidelines, even executives with a stake in the technology acknowledged there are big challenges to making 3D TV widespread in the home.

The lack of content, the higher cost and complexity of 3D production, the fact that consumers will have to wear special glasses, and that millions of people have just shelled out for large HDTVs were all cited as factors that could make the technology slow to take off.

"If it took 10 years for HD to go from one home to reach more than half the US population, it will take 3D just as long," Forrester analyst James McQuivey said in a blog.

He expects less than a million US households to be viewing 3D shows this year, far short of the Consumer Electronics Association's estimate that 4.3 million 3D-capable sets will ship in 2010.

That's not to say things aren't moving forward. Dozens of 3D TVs and Blu-ray players will go on sale this year. Hollywood studios have even promised new and classic titles in 3D.

At a CES panel discussion that asked the question, '3D: Hope or hype?' Ahmad Ouri, chief marketing officer at Technicolor, said his company will release 16 features in 3D this year, adding to the 25 it already offers.

But with titles being counted in the tens rather than the thousands, it may not be enough to persuade large numbers of consumers to ditch their HDTVs for 3D.

US broadcaster ESPN has committed to showing 85 sporting events this year on its new channel, starting in June.

It will carry only live events, however, and the rest of the time screens will "go black", said Anthony Bailey, ESPN vice president for emerging technology, which means there will be long stretches when there is nothing to see.

3D gear will also carry a price premium, though manufacturers haven't announced specifics yet. "It will not be a very high, astronomical price," was the best that Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, Panasonic's CTO, could manage.

"It's not going to be cheap. We are all in this to make money," said Brian Lenz, director of product design and TV product development at BSkyB. But it will not be "exorbitant", he added.

Most people who love sports, movies and gaming - the content most suitable for 3D - have just bought large HDTVs, Forrester's McQuivey said.

"Now we're going to ask those same people to spend between $2,000 and $4,000 to get a good 3D TV set with just two sets of active shutter glasses? Sorry, the credit card is going to stay in the wallet for this one," he said.

NEXT PAGE: Technical challenges

  1. 3D TV: We separate the hope from the hype
  2. 3D TV: Technical challenges

Digital World

As the 3D TV hype continues to flow, we separate the hope from the hype when it comes to this latest technology.

There are also technical challenges. Producing 3D requires "fundamentally new skills", Lenz said.

"Things like panning and how you zoom and frame; there's going to be a fairly steep learning curve that everyone who's new to 3D is going to go through. So for all the excitement, expect some speed bumps in the road."

Like other broadcasters, ESPN's commitment to 3D will depend on finding a cost-effective way to produce it alongside 2D content.

"The biggest deal for us is to get 3D and 2D produced from the same truck. If we can't do that it might be a long putt for us to stay with it," Bailey said.

Lenz argued that the relative scarcity of content may actually be an advantage, because it will help ensure what's available is of high quality.

"The idea isn't to watch every show in 3D, just the content that will benefit from it, such as movies, games and big sporting events."

"Once you see it, you get it," Panasonic's Tsuyuzaki promised. "It will take off a lot more quickly than a lot of people expect."

But there's consumer education to be done first. Some people are under the mistaken impression that they'll need special glasses to watch even 2D content on a 3D TV, said Rick Dean, chairman of the 3D Home Consortium.

"There's every opportunity for massive confusion," he acknowledged.

See also: Sony: 3DTV to go mainstream in 2012

  1. 3D TV: We separate the hope from the hype
  2. 3D TV: Technical challenges

Digital World