By Ashley Paddock, Editor
With industry analysts predicting between 15 million and 21 million 3-D-ready televisions in US homes by the end of next year, it looks as if 3-D TV is more than just a fad.
“There were about 3 million 3-D-ready TVs shipped in 2010, and DisplaySearch forecasts that there will be over 21 million 3-D-ready TVs shipped in 2011,” said Dr. Jennifer Colegrove, vice president of emerging display technologies at DisplaySearch.
There are still issues to overcome, however, as consumers continue to be repelled by fears of the cost and the physical side effects from watching the interactive displays. Now, steps to implement standards for 3-D viewing are under way, which analysts hope will allay consumer fears, benefitting manufacturers.
Although having a 3-D-ready TV is one thing, watching programming in 3-D is another. Already ponying up large sums of money for the TV, consumers are reluctant to spend additional cash on the accessories needed to view 3-D content. Colegrove believes that most consumers who have bought 3-D-ready TVs are easing into the process. However, with limited channels available at this time, consumers are hesitant to make the commitment.
“TV manufacturers really got ahead of themselves in 2010, and they forgot that a TV is a tool to watch content,” Paul Gray, director of TV electronics research at DisplaySearch, said in a statement. “People will only buy a 3-D TV if there is enough content to watch, and in 2010, there simply was not enough 3-D content available.”
Samsung's 3-D-ready D8000 LED TV, unveiled at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show. (Image: Samsung)
To address content availability concerns, many consumer electronic manufacturers have formed partnerships to provide a broader range of programming to keep pace with consumer expectations, said Futuresource Consulting of London. Collaborations have included Cyfra of Poland and LG for 3-D sports; NTV-Plus of Russia and Panasonic; the UK’s Sky with LG and Panasonic; and DirecTV and Panasonic in the US. By the end of 2010, there were 31 3-D pay-TV services offered throughout Europe, of which 18 were linear/demo channels and 13 provided video on demand (VoD) services. Across North America, however, only 11 3-D services have been launched, two of which are 24/7 channels, and six offer separate VoD services.
Looking ahead, Futuresource said that broadcast will continue to play a key role in the 3-D TV market, not only by providing content directly into the home, but also by educating the consumer about the technology and driving awareness. In addition, it said that the high cost of active-shutter 3-D glasses and the limitations imposed by glasses-free 3-D TVs continue to hinder consumer adoption of the technology.
Consumer awareness of 3-D has grown significantly, according to a study commissioned by the NPD Group. A year and a half into the 3-D TV era, 45 percent of people said they would not buy a TV because it is too expensive, while 42 percent of people have refrained from buying the product because they do not want to wear glasses. Just six months earlier, the study found that only 37 percent said price was an inhibiting factor in their purchase, and 32 percent said wearing glasses was.
“Concerns about price and an aversion to 3-D glasses both saw relative increases as inhibitors to adopting 3-D televisions,” said Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis at the NPD Group, in a press release.
Surprisingly, people were more wary of the glasses than the cost of the TV. Following the commissioned Nielsen study conducted last fall, NPD found that 90 percent of the respondents voiced concern about wearing glasses for 3-D TV because it would hinder multitasking such as working on a laptop, or participating in other activities while sitting in front of the tube. Although consumer awareness has grown significantly, that same awareness also brings wariness. Facing a significant range of quality in products and pricing among manufacturers, consumers need some form of standardization in the technology to allay their fears. When going to the store, they should feel confident in purchasing a basic level of 3-D technology to meet their expectations.
A call for standardization
To move the industry away from proprietary infrared synchronization technologies that limit consumer eyewear choices, The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) sought proposals to develop standardization for IR-based stereoscopic 3-D eyewear. Its efforts for standardization are expected to help the 3-D format grow into mass market levels by providing solutions to the interoperability hurdles presented by using proprietary technologies.
Samsung's newest model of active-shutter 3-D glasses are considered lighter and less bulky than those of many manufacturers, but are Bluetooth based, not infrared, so they work only with the company's latest 3-D TV models and are not backward-compatible. (Image: Samsung)
CEA announced in early March that it has established a 3-D technologies working group, R4WG16, to select proposals that will become the basis for standardization. By creating a standard for all 3-D active eyewear glasses, it said it would help to break down consumer barriers to purchasing 3-D TVs as well as increase the expansion of 3-D into the home.
“The expanding presence of 3-D TV in the home makes the need for interoperable 3-D glasses more urgent than ever,” said Brian Markwalter, vice president of research and standards at CEA. “Industry participation will help meet consumer demand and expectations regarding 3-D interoperability in the home.”
Recently, a new standard, called M-3DI, was proposed to regulate stereoscopic 3-D glasses. Under the standard, any pair of 3-D glasses purchased would work, whether a person owned a Samsung, Panasonic or Sony 3-D TV. The effort is headed by Panasonic and 3-D glasses maker Xpand 3D of Los Angeles. Other companies, such as Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Changhong, Seiko Epson, Hisense, SIM2 Multimedia and Viewsonic, have jumped aboard the need for standardization, while notables like Sony, LG and Samsung have jumped ship, according to a recent release posted online by Mike Luttrell for TG Daily. Although it is unclear as to why they are not supporting a universal standard, one could assume they would like the consumer to purchase their proprietary glasses for a profit.
Whatever the case may be, if 3-D TV is the way of the future, standardization is the way in which consumers will feel most comfortable bringing it into the home.
“3-D standardization is very important,” Colegrove said. “There has been some 3-D standardization released in the past, such as from the 3-D Blu-ray association, HDMI. In the future, there will be more standardization, which will benefit the customers as well as the manufacturers.”
What about safety?
Technology standards are not the only concern for consumers. Although there is no medical evidence that links 3-D with health-related side effects, questions about the technology have arisen in the wake of warnings from Nintendo after it released its handheld 3DS. The videogame console maker cautioned users of the potential damage the device could have on the eyesight of children under the age of 6. (See: Making 3-D easier on the eyes).
Besides Nintendo, Samsung issued a notice on its website cautioning viewers watching content in 3-D mode. While wearing 3-D active glasses, some viewers may experience epileptic seizures or strokes when exposed to the flickering images or lights within certain TV programs or games. Some users may also experience other unpleasant side effects, such as altered vision, dizziness, involuntary muscle spasms, nausea, cramps or convulsions. They urge viewers to immediately stop using the technology and consult a medical specialist if they experience any of these symptoms.
The physical side effects and safety concerns for children while using 3-D active shutter glasses has put many consumers in a panic. To assuage their concerns, Panasonic is partnering with the Japanese government to establish an international set of rules that they hope will provide a healthy, side-effect-free viewing experience. They have begun taking steps to establish 3-D health and safety guidelines for electronics manufacturers, content makers and broadcasters, according to Digits, a Wall Street Journal blog. These regulations, which will begin in Japan but will eventually go global, are critical for the expansion of 3-D, they say.
Once manufacturers address concerns about the physical side-effects of the technology, as well as quality control issues, 3-D technology may be able to expand into other areas of the market, including mobile devices, public displays and touch-screen integrated devices.