Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Future of 3D TV... Will Be Broadcast...

by Jonathan Bredemeyer

Since soon after the dawning of the vacuum tube, broadcast TV has pushed content to masses in style. Standards, frequencies, and color spectra have changed, but the broadcast method of delivery has always been there. The latest and greatest TV tech to try and sweep the couch potatoes off their… bottoms is 3D TV. This technology, implemented by all the major TV manufacturers in a few different ways, involves the perception of the image on the television in two to three dimensions. The end product looks much like 3D movies in movie theaters, but not quite the vast landscape of eye candy the movie-goer is used to on a home-sized screen.  Impressive as it is, it hasn’t penetrated the home market as hoped by TV manufacturers, but maybe it will have new life in the coming months.

Samsung 3D TV, Blu-ray player, and Active 3D Glasses
3D TVs are not new.  They burst onto the consumer electronics stage front and center at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas several years ago, and have made their way into nearly every TV retailer in the US. There are two main varieties of 3D TV: active 3D and passive 3D. The way 3D images work is through a process of tricking the brain into perceiving a slightly different image in each eye at the same time. This is accomplished by projecting two images simultaneously on the screen, and then using glasses to show a different one to each eye. Active 3D uses shutter glasses that alternative each lens in sync with the TV. There’s an infrared receiver on the glasses and a transmitter built into the TV that coordinates this dimming effect. Each pair of glasses runs around $150 and requires batteries to operate. Passive 3D glasses, on the other hand, are cheap, don’t require any power or signals to work, but aren’t as crisp as active glasses. Passive glasses are the ones you wear at any typical 3D movie.

So why don’t you own a 3D TV? (I’m betting you aren’t one of the few million that have bought one in the past year that they’ve been widely available…) For one, the lack of 3D content is impressive. Only a few service providers even offer a 3D channel package (Uverse, Xfinity, and DirecTV are probably the most popular). To demonstrate how few viewers this content has, the famously touted ESPN 3D TV channel was dropped by Uverse this month, citing such a low viewership that it couldn’t justify keeping it. The really disappointing part is that it was launched just over a year ago in time for the World Cup. This doesn’t seem like the path the industry anticipated, since they require 3D content to be ready for the estimated 90 million 3D TV owners by 2014. With the economic downturn sticking around longer than planned, sales haven’t climbed as expected, giving the cable providers little motive to shell out money and upgrade their content to the next dimension. So to answer the original question of why you don't own one? It is because 3D TV doesn't currently include... well, TV. It's basically impossible to find our old beloved shows or new potentials favorites in 3D.

the savior of 3D TV
The current plan for the future of 3D TV looks better than its measly start. This month, the Advanced Television System Committee, Inc. (ATSC) announced they are developing a 3D TV broadcast standard. It’s supposed to provide methods for transmitting 3D content, 2D HDTV, and mobile DTV to fixed and mobile devices. This new capability is scheduled to be completed within a year and to be able to deliver both left and right eye images to devices in real-time. Ideally, the broadcast networks will upgrade as well, giving us the content we’ve come to know and love since childhood in the 3D goodness of the 21st century.

On the hardware front, Sony is planning to release its 3D TV/monitor by the end of this year in time for the holiday season (or so the rumor goes). At under $500, Sony is hoping to jump-start the 3D market and create a whole new 3D gaming industry with its hardware at the forefront. I don’t own a single Sony entertainment product, but I’m all for it if it pumps up the 3D TV ownership numbers to a level that gets content providers to push TV technology into this century, even if they drag it in by its one-dimensional heels.

In my humble opinion, 3D TV will be saved by the same technology that made television a fixture of everyday life: a broadcast standard. The ability for users to pull 3D content out of the air will compel home viewers to set up their living rooms, home theaters, and devices to view 3D content. And why not? It’s right there…  why not view it? With so much free content available, it will give start-up companies a chance to experiment with new hardware designs and potentially build companies around receivers, glasses, etc. In any case, it will give us a whole new dimension to tune into for our favorite shows.

Regardless of adoption, 3D TV is the chosen next generation of the television. Just like high definition, it will come slowly (and this case, painfully) into our lives as long as we choose to enjoy television at its finest. Leave your thoughts in the comments if you have a 3D TV, love it, hate it, or are planning on getting one. Maybe you’ll help sell the rest of us… you, and the new broadcast standard...

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