I have heard that stereoscopic 3D TVs received some attention at CES. What’s going on?

There has been a groundswell of activity lately with a lot of excitement generated at CES this year regarding new products and the rapidly maturing 3D TV industry. In particular, we saw Samsung introduce new PDP-TVs that can display 3D content. This joins the DLP-based TVs Samsung and Mitsubishi already offer that can display 3D content. In addition, SpectronIQ announced the roll out a 46″ LCD TV that can display stereoscopic content. All of these systems require glasses to see 3D, but the fact that all three major TV technologies are now mature enough for consumers to buy at very reasonable price points is a real milestone. This is happening faster than almost anyone expected.

Can you explain the various 3D technologies?

Stereoscopic 3D means you create two images – one for the left eye and one for the right eye. These images are designed to simulate how we see in real life. There are lots of ways to create and display stereoscopic images – be it movies, still photos or animated games. You can create stereo images with two projectors or two LCD panels, but this is generally a more expensive solution. For more mainstream TVs, you want to use a single projector, LCD panel or PDP-TV. Most approaches use a time sequential method to flash the left eye image and then the right eye image. The switching mechanism can be at the display or in front of your eyes.

Will we need to wear those glasses that typically give the 3D effect in movie theaters?

Yes. The best 3D images are created when users wear glasses (either passive or active shutter glasses). Some solutions are available where no glasses are needed, but these often have trade-offs in resolution or color depth, so for the time being, these are more oriented toward advertising applications. More sophisticated systems can also be produced that include eye and/or head tracking, but you will pay more for these single-person monitors.

What’s driving adoption of 3D TVs?

3D movies in the cinema are the major driving force right now. These movies, like U23D, Hannah Montana, and Beowulf are very popular, bringing in lots of revenue for the studios and exhibitors. This is driving the creation of more content and also driving everyone to find a way to bring this content to the home. Hollywood derives perhaps 60% of its revenue from DVD/Blu-ray distribution, so being able to sell 3D DVDs is critical for long-term growth.

Who will supply the 3D content?

Many sources. New movies are being shot with stereoscopic cameras. Animated films are being made in stereo, motion capture is doing 3D now and 2D movies can be converted to high-quality 3D. In addition, technologies are in place to convert legacy content to 3D in real time – although not with the same quality level that the studios can do off line. Hollywood is putting the tools in place to make 3D a part of its long-term workflow process.

Will 3D TV require additional infrastructure to reach consumers or will existing cable providers etc. be able to deliver it?

This is where things get a little tricky. Clearly, a solution that uses existing ways to distribute content is needed to gain acceptance, minimize risk and provide for uninterrupted 2D content flow. But we are trying to squeeze two images into the space normally occupied by one, so encoding of the stereo images is needed. There are several approaches available now that are being evaluated by many industry players. Expect rapid progress in this area. In fact, Insight Media and the US Display Consortium are in the process of forming the 3D@Home Consortium right now. In their efforts to speed the commercial adoption of 3D TV, dealing with the format and distribution issues is the number one goal of the Consortium.

How soon do you think 3D TV will be available for the average consumer?

You can buy it today. The DLP sets from Samsung and Mitsubishi are 3D enabled, Samsung’s PDP-TVs will arrive this Spring and SpectronIQ plans to launch its LCD 3D TV this summer. This is just the beginning.

Will it be a costly system to install?

No, not really. The DLP TVs and PDP TV carry a tiny, if zero, premium to offer 3D. The LCD technology will add some cost to go 3D, but it will be within the means of many consumers. These are geared to be mainstream products to enhance 2D HD TVs.

How do I learn more?

Insight Media is a working on a new report called 3D TV, which we hope to publish in about a month. This follows a more comprehensive report published in 2007 that looked at all 40 market segments where 3D is used. Insight Media publishes monthly newsletters with continuing coverage and analysis of 3D related developments, plus, the 3D Home Consortium will offer a great way to become more engaged with this exciting new direction of the TV industry.