Industry Beats Drums for 3-D TV

The buzz from today's kickoff of the world's biggest electronics show is quickly building around a blast from the past.

3-D entertainment -- goofy glasses and all -- has taken center stage at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, as announcements of new televisions, partnerships and content channels pour in.

Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba and JVC all announced partnerships Wednesday with 3-D powerhouse RealD to bring 3-D technology to home televisions.

Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN announced that it will broadcast a minimum of 85 live sporting events in 3-D this year, including this summer's World Cup. And Discovery unveiled an alliance with Sony and IMAX to deliver a 24-hour 3-D nature channel.

DirecTV and Panasonic also said that starting in June 2010 DirecTV HD customers will be able to receive a free upgrade to receive three 3-D-only channels.

TV Makers: Consumers Want Theater-Like 3-D at Home

Entertainment stars and celebrities even made appearances to give the new dimension more visibility. Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg spoke in support of Samsung's 3-D foray, and country singer Taylor Swift made an unexpected 3-D visit on behalf of Sony.

The industry is rallying behind the revived retro technology and touting it as the "next big thing," but not everyone is convinced that 3-D TV is going to become the next HDTV anytime soon.

"The beauty of 3-D is that it delivers a vivid image with life-like depth," said Tim Baxter, president of Samsung Electronics America, in a press event Wednesday. Though the technology has had a bumpy ride since the first 3-D film in 1922, he said it has advanced way beyond uncomfortable cardboard glasses and blurry images.

"It's clear that people love watching 3-D film in the theaters," he said, noting the success of box office hits like "Avatar" and "Monsters and Aliens." "Consumers are expecting the same experience that they are getting in the theater in their home."

Fueled by that conviction, Samsung Wednesday unveiled an entire 3-D "eco-system" of 3-D TVs, home theater systems, glasses and content from partners Dreamworks and Technicolor.

Is 3-D the Next Natural Step in Television and Film?

David Steel, senior vice president of marketing for Samsung, said that it isn't just the string of recent box office victories that are driving industry interest in 3-D.

"There's a real wow factor when you watch the picture, it's emotional, it's dramatic," he told Though he acknowledged that sometimes his industry creates technology ahead of consumer appreciation or demand, he said with 3-D they're tapping into something with big potential.

He also said that a boom in home entertainment indicates that now is the time to move 3-D from theaters to the living room.

But for 3-D enthusiasts, this isn't just about selling more TVs, it's about advancing along an evolutionary process that has taken television and film from silent to black and white to color to HD.

"You see the world in 3-D, why wouldn't you want to see your entertainment in 3-D?" asked Rick Heineman, vice president of corporate communications for RealD.

His company's technology, which powered movies such "Avatar," "Alice in Wonderland," and "Up," is also used by the military and research institutions including NASA.

RealD: 3-D Has Transformed Entertainment

He said the technology has come a long way since its early days and from the reaction to movies such as "Avatar" -- $1 billion in 17 days -- it's clear that there's strong consumer interest.

"3-D has really transformed entertainment around cinema," he said. "It's the natural progression of let's take it to the home."

And while 3-D was a hot topic at last year's CES, he said this is the year the business models and delivery mechanisms are really coming together.

"This is the year where people are going from demos and what could be and going from essentially concept to reality," he said. And he said given the number of Blu-ray players that already play 3-D and TVs that convert 2D to 3-D pictures, consumer adoption of 3-D would likely be faster than that of HD.

Though he acknowledged that there is some resistance to 3-D glasses, he said that younger generations are more open to the accessory.

Digital Generations More Receptive to Glasses?

Those who have grown up in a purely digital world of crisp and immersive experiences -- without telephone cords, VCRs, record players and cassette decks -- associate the glasses with a better experience and don't have the hang-ups of their older counterparts, he said.

"We do find that there's an age thing. People that are older will often say, 'Do I have to wear the glasses?' People that are younger will say 'Do I get to wear the glasses?'" he said.

But, despite the impassioned arguments in support of 3-D, some industry watchers are skeptical, saying there's still no compelling reason to move beyond 2D.

"Who is actually saying 2D is broken?" asked Scott Steinberg, publisher of technology news Web site Digital Trends. "I'm not necessarily convinced that 3-D is yet going to ignite the revolution."

Yes, the TVs are coming and, yes, the networks are launching. But, he asked, "Really, how many hours of content is that? When are we getting it? How much content?"

Given the recession and the toll it took on the consumer electronics industry, he said manufacturers are looking for something to build excitement and pull consumers back in to the market. But he said people will still want something affordable and practical.

Analysts: May Be Tough Sell for Consumers

"Realistically, I'm not seeing a lot of indications that this is something that people are going to rally behind and decide that we absolutely have to have this in their home -- they're still waiting to be convinced," he said.

But though questions remain, long-time industry watchers say the timing may be better than ever for 3-D home entertainment.

Jim Wilcox, a senior editor for electronics and technology at Consumer Reports, said he's seen 3-D TVs at CES going back 15 years and "it seems like there are a bunch of compelling reasons why this may actually take place."

But the hurdles are still there. Aside from the glasses, he said, consumers really stepped up in recent years to buy flat panel TVs and will be reluctant to go back into the marketplace without a compelling reason.

"It's going to be a tough sell for those who have just purchased one," he said.

And, of course, 3-D adoption will depend on pricing, a topic on which manufacturers are uniformly silent.

"I think what we're really seeing is the first wave of 3-D becoming a reality at home. But like most new technologies it's going to take a while really for it to develop and be accepted," he said. "I think this is a three-, four-, five-year transition. But for the first time I'm seeing 3-D products in the market that I could see people buying."