3D TV mass adoption 10 years away

Held back by pricing and lack of content, new technology in television viewing will follow HDTV trajectory and not be in living rooms so soon, analysts predict.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Analysts do not see 3D TV being adopted en masse for the living room any time soon, projecting the new technology to follow the same path as HDTV (high-definition TV) adoption.

According to Frost & Sullivan's industry manager of digital media, information and communication technologies, Vidya S Nath, HDTV was talked about for 10 years but embraced only in the last two years when prices fell to a point where mass consumer adoption was possible.

In a phone interview with ZDNet Asia, Nath said 3D TV market cannot be described as nascent and is still in the incubation stage, as the workflow and production of such televisions have either just begun or yet to be rolled out.

While a BBC article cited a survey that forecast 3.4 million 3D TV sets will be sold in the United States alone this year, analyst James McQuivey disputes those figures. The vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, in his blog post, wrote that "not even a million US homes will [have 3D TV] in 2010".

When contacted by ZDNet Asia, McQuivey e-mailed that the success of 3D movies, especially recent blockbuster Avatar, may have prompted some manufacturers to decide that consumers want 3D in their homes. But, he feels this will not be the case.

Pricing too premium
McQuivey explained: "Although when surveyed, consumers say 3D in the home would be nice, when they actually have to pay for it, we believe their interest will disappear as these TVs and the required glasses will likely cost thousands more than a comparable TV would."

ZDNet Asia conducted a quick poll of 10, where eight respondents said they did not plan to buy a 3D TV any time soon. Reason cited ranged from "can't afford" to "marketing doesn't target persons with glasses".

To compound matters, McQuivey blogged that consumers only recently bought new TV sets following the emergence of HDTV, with over 40 million such units sold in the United States over the past two years. TV sets 40 inch and below were the bestsellers in 2009.

This means potential 3D TV customers may already have HDTV sets in their living rooms. McQuivey said: "Now, we're going to ask those same people to spend between US$2,000 and US$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 added, however, that manufacturers are still moving forward.

"They don't want to wake up one day and find that consumers finally want 3D TV and they aren't ready to give it to them," he said.

Hefty investments
Frost & Sullivan's Nath noted that 3D content is currently limited for television viewers. "Keep in mind that you have a US$3,000 television, but with very little content," he said.

In his blog, McQuivey posted that the push for 3D TV will require "a huge investment from the industry".

More 3D content has to be created, which means new and expensive cameras, new satellite uplink infrastructures for live sporting events, and an entirely new cable infrastructure with greater bandwidth to stream full-high definition 3D content.

He added that the 3D experience is only good for some viewing experiences as it requires focused attention that only a few people can do at a time, as they need to have a "fairly direct view of the TV".

In this aspect, McQuivey noted that games will lead the 3D market as gamers can "stare straight at the screen in immersive gameplay for hours".

3D stays in cinema
While mass adoption of 3D TV is not expected to happen any time soon, Frost & Sullivan's Nath believes 3D films will grow "as there is an aggressive push worldwide in 3D film scriptwriting and post-production.

Advocates of 3D film development include Singapore's Media Development Authority (MDA). In an e-mail interview, Yeo Chun Cheng, director of broadcast and music at the MDA, said the government agency's strategy encompasses boosting the development of 3D content, as well as building an industry capable of offering 3D production expertise to meet future demand.

According to Yeo, the MDA has established a S$10 million (US$7 million) 3D development fund to support the industry's capabilities across the 3D production cycle, from content creation to post-production.

A grant was awarded to local production firm Widescreen Media, to acquire 3D cameras and rigs that were used in the production of Amphibious, which the company dubbed as Southeast Asia's first feature-length stereoscopic 3D production.

The MDA fund also enabled Singapore post-production company Blackmagic Design to upgrade to a 3D-ready post production facility, Yeo said.

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