The rapid re-emergence of 3D in the television and video industries is beginning to reach “real” consumers. I was tempted into the Sony Style store in Boston’s Copley Mall recently by a window poster offering the chance to “see 3D in action”. After circling the store with no sign of said “3D in action”, a sales consultant pointed me, with slight embarrassment, to a PS3 connected to an LCD TV. “This should be showing 3D, but we were sent the wrong box.” Further inquiry revealed that “Singapore”, whatever might be there, had shipped a faulty hard disk drive for installation in the PS3, and the store was awaiting a new module, presumably along with the sort of firmware upgrade to be offered to all PS3 owners later this year to enable 3D Blu-ray playback.
Personally I have seen enough 3D demos to last a lifetime, so this disappointment represented no great loss. But Sony will clearly have to avoid such problems for US-based customers interested in 3D Blu-ray players and TVs once they are offered for sale. Effective in-store technology demonstrations have always been one of the major obstacles to commercial success, and 3D will be no different. Minor issues such as these will be overcome as the technology matures, but they will be replaced by other practical questions such as how 3D glasses are stored, demonstrated and secured.
Retailers will have other headaches too, as an excellent article in specialist trade publication, CE Daily, revealed last week. The incompatibility of passive (side-by-side) and active (eg Blu-ray) 3D systems is one of the major faultlines in the realm of 3D standards. The Blu-ray 3D standard specifies only the active approach, which is generally accepted to offer the best quality available today, and will be compatible with TVs with active displays and the transmitter necessary to communicate with active shutter 3D glasses.
Panasonic recently became one of the first major companies to announce sales of new, active 3D TVs. It will sell 50” and 54” plasma sets in Japan, starting at around $4800. One pair of glasses will be included in the bundle; additional pairs will retail at around $112 each.
But, as CE Daily’s Barry Fox reports, it seems, as long suspected, that some TVs will be launched which will only support passive 3D technologies, from vendors such as Hyundai and JVC. These TVs, which are likely to cost considerably less than the first active 3D sets, will be suitable for broadcast 3D services from Sky, which are only using the passive approach. But they will apparently not be compatible with 3D Blu-ray players (including the PS3), at least not without some modification or add-on transmitter device. They will also apparently not incorporate the latest HDMI 1.4 ports required for 3D Blu-ray and other potential active 3D systems.
nearly a year ago that BSkyB, which had just announced its intention to launch a 3D service, was unconcerned by 3D standards issues. But that narrow perspective ignored the dilemma which now apparently faces retailers anxious to push sales of new 3D devices and software. Sky’s 3D customers will need new TV sets; but will retailers tell them (will they even know) that some of those TVs may not play 3D from Blu-ray discs? Buyer, as always, beware.
Client Reading: Consumer Imperatives for Digital TV Media Browsers