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CES: Stereoscopic 3D TV 2.0

Stereoscopic 3D television dominated last year's CES,
producing so much hype that the technology has struggled since then to live up
to what were probably unrealistic expectations. Set sales have not set the
retailing world on fire, with companies like Best Buy recently blaming
disappointing earnings on slower than expected 3D TV sales and research studies
finding that consumers have concerns about glasses, the cost of 3D sets and
lack of content.

Still, the technology is in its early stages and there will
be a number of developments that broadcasters should be watching in terms of
glasses, pricing and devices. Recent consumer research by both Frank N. Magid
Associates and the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing
found consumers were interested in 3D, with Magid researchers reporting that
about 8% planned to buy a 3D TV in 2011, about the same levels of interest that
were seen in the early days of flat panel HDTVs.

But consumers also fretted about prices, glasses and the
lack of content, with the CTAM study finding that 68% cited high prices as a
reason for not wanting to purchase a 3D, 57% complaining about the need for
glasses and 44% citing the lack of 3D programming. 

Two of those problems are likely to ease this year, as more
content becomes available and prices drop. DirecTV, which launched two linear
3D services last summer, is add more 3D movies to its lineup and Comcast has
just rolled out a 3D VOD offering to complement ESPN 3D. Over 50 Hollywood
movies are expected to be released next years.

Gagnon at Display search notes that manufacturers are likely
to increasingly sell 3D sets separately without glasses, which will reduce the
initial sticker shock. "3D sets are likely to see some pretty good growth over
the next three or four years but only because manufactures will pretty much
wipe away the premium associated with them by selling the glasses after the
fact," he explains.

CE manufacturers will probably be showing some glasses free
3D screens but these are generally targeted to the digital signage market or
will be small screens for use in gaming. One big problem with glasses-free 3D
screens remains the fact that they can generally only be viewed from limited
viewing angles and have poorer resolution. "They are much better but I think it
is still years away from being a product for the home," notes 3ality Digital
CEO Steve Schklair.

Schklair adds that CES will see the launch of more 3D TVs
using passive glasses, which are much less expensive, and that there will be
more consumer 3D camcorders, which will help drive interest technology.

Some broadcasters have already experimented with 3D
production in the U.S. but to date these events have only aired on cable,
satellite or telco providers. Internationally, however, some broadcasters in
Australia and Italy did free over the air 3D broadcasts in 2010. "There are no
technology limitations for 3D broadcasts," notes Schklair, who was involved in
the Australian broadcasts of rugby matches by Seven Network and Nine Network.
"You can go over the air as easily as you can do satellite or cable. It is
really a business issues. With satellite and cable there is a pay-per-view
model to support the product but with free-to-air, it has to be advertising
sponsored. So the question is whether an advertiser will step up when there
aren't a lot of sets in the market."

Looking into 2011, he says the biggest thing to watch for
will be the production of a live event with only one crew. Typically, ESPN and
others will use two crews to produce the 3D and 2D feeds, which increases the
cost of production. While ESPN has experimented with producing a 2D and 3D
events with only one crew, no one has broadcast a live event with just one

"One milestone that I'm looking forward to is seeing one
crew shooting 3D and taking both the 2D and 3D from the same cameras," notes
Schklair. "That is the economic holy grail. Frankly I think it is totally doable,"
though it will require some compromises for the 2D version.