3D PC won't fly without content

3D PC makers may yet face the same challenges as other 3D proponents in having to foster market demand for products and develop well-stocked content ecosystem, but industry watchers say technology looks set to grow.

Content and market demand will play key roles in determining whether 3D PCs sink or swim, industry watchers say, though the market is confident that this will veer more toward the latter.

Bryan Ma, the associate vice president for devices and peripherals at IDC Asia-Pacific's domain research and practice groups, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview that with regard to user demand, it is still early days yet, with much of the interest being shown by gamers and those looking to use their PCs as entertainment devices.

As for enterprise demand, he went on to point out that there may be some users who are happy to have 3D PCs to work on their AutoCAD designs or spreadsheets, but such use cases are "limited".

Gartner principal research analyst Lillian Tay concurred, saying that 3D PC is still an "emerging market" and developments still ongoing.

"Currently, PCs introduced are capitalizing on the hype [of 3D technology] and [used to] test the market. These target the early adopters, especially gamers who want an added unique experience while playing their games, and consumer demand is primarily driven [by] this group [currently]," she said in her e-mail.

All about content
IDC's Ma also pointed out the second factor that could influence the adoption of 3D PCs: content. He said that this was similar to the initial challenge faced by 3D movie makers and TV manufacturers, although the latter two sectors have made strides in building up their content ecosystem.

He mentioned that sports programs and blockbuster movies are some of the potential drivers for the 3D PC market, as these play key roles in encouraging uptake for movies and TVs. He also said that pornography, while taboo in certain societies, could also have a significant part in boosting demand for such PCs.

Another industry watcher, Li Ai-Jung, a notebook product marketing representative for AsusTek Computer, said in her e-mail that the 3D ecosystem, which includes both hardware such as 3D Blu-ray players and content like games and movies, is growing and "becoming ready" for mass adoption. This, in turn, will help boost the demand for 3D PC.

"In Singapore, for example, we are targeting gamers with our 3D laptops, which are able to convert standard 2D-graphic games into 3D with just a single switch. Users can then choose between 2D and 3D display mode [for their various PC activities]," she added.

Hardware makers jumping onboard
Fellow 3D proponent Nvidia told ZDNet Asia that the GPU (graphics processor unit) maker is "not alone" in its 3D push, with others such as Dell Computer, Microsoft and Acer sharing the "same level of confidence" in the technology and related products.

"Whether [3D PCs] warrant classification as a whole new form of computing remains to be seen, but the signs are good and the technology convincing and engaging. One thing is for certain, though, 3D technology looks set to grow, in whatever shape or form it presents itself," said Andrew Fear, product manager of Nvidia's 3D Vision, in his e-mail.

Asus, for instance, had earlier announced its partnership with Nvidia to roll out 3D PCs during the recently-concluded Computex Taipei 2010 tradeshow. An earlier CNET Asia report stated that these PCs include Asus' G51Jx-EE 3D-ready laptop, which will come packaged with Nvidia's 3D Vision active shutter glasses, and the Eee Top ET2400 all-in-one desktop PC.

Lenovo is another PC maker that has recently come out in support of 3D PCs by introducing a device of its own. The China-based company announced earlier this month its first multimedia laptop with 3D display, the IdeaPad Y560d.

"While 3D technology has been around for ages, it has not been readily accessible to consumers within the home. Lenovo is helping [to] bridge this gap by delivering consumers a 3D experience on a familiar PC platform that can be viewed and enjoyed when and where they want," said Dion Weisler, vice president of business operations, Lenovo, in a media release.

Recently, too, Toshiba announced its Satellite A665 3D Edition.

As for when 3D PCs will hit the mainstream, the Nvidia executive demurred on commenting directly.

Instead, he quoted Roger Kay, founder and president of research and consultancy firm Endpoint Technologies Associates, saying: "We're just in the early phase of 3D adoption, but the market is likely to grow dramatically over the next five years. In 2010, only about 1 million 3D PCs will ship, [but] by 2014, that number will rise to more than 30 million."

Gartner's Tay provided a more conservative projection, though. She said that the 3D PC market remains niche, and although technology developments are in progress, it will take time before the device category takes off.

"We estimate that it will take until 2015, when autostereoscopic 3D displays become more widely available and users are more comfortable viewing 3D displays [for the technology to be adopted by the masses]. In addition, there is the need to build up a library of 3D software and quicker releases of such software, too," she added.