CES will look at 3D, big time

Chris Forrester, on 05-01-2009

On January 8 the doors open at the Las Vegas Convention Centre for the 2009 International CES, the largest show in the US. This year’s focus is expected to be 3D display.

The exhibition and conflab promises to be as compelling as ever helped by keynotes from Steve Ballmer Microsoft’s CEO; Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman and CEO at Sony Corporation; and Alan Mulally, President and CEO at Ford Motor Company, who besides a comment on two on the US motor industry will address in-car entertianment, and connectivity.

But 3D display, and the ability of consumers to beam life-like images of live sports as well as movies and computer games into their TV sets, is likely to be the hot topic. There are plenty of would-be suppliers offering neat and clever devices to help overcome the 3D challenges, not least Nvidia which will launch its GeForce 3D spectacles that connect wirelessly to a PC or console. Nvidea also says it will be showing a dedicated $199 video converter which will play 3D movies onto a dedicated 3D-ready set.

Dolby Labs, already with global status as the world’s default audio experts, is looking to wow CES delegates with its domestic version of its existing cinema 3D product. "Millions of people are seeing it and going home and saying they want to see it at home" said Guido Voltolino, Dolby’s director of business development.

Dolby's home 3-D technology is designed so viewers would not be required to buy additional hardware, he said. It would work on any 3-D enabled TV -- currently available from companies including Mitsubishi and Samsung -- with a standard Blu-ray player. Most 3-D entertainment requires the use of glasses, from simple polarized lens to costly pairs with extremely fast-moving shutters. Dolby said its technology would support whichever glasses the TV manufacturer specifies.

Fox Sport will be demonstrating 3D college football to delegates, and given Fox’s pioneering approach to HDTV it would be wise to pay attention to what they are doing.

The good news is that there will be dozens of similar exhibits at CES. The bad news is that broadcast standards in 3D are few and far between. Standards body SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers) only started its formal definition work in August 2008, establishing what it described as a “task force” to define the parameters of stereoscopic TV.

The holy grail is to tap into what is seen as massive customer enthusiasm for 3D. The prize that will see Hollywood’s film studios take more than $1bn at the box office this year for 3D movies. "Cinema did very well during the Great Depression in the 1930s because sound technology was new," said Paul Lee, director for media and telecommunications at Deloitte Research. "With consumers questioning every item of expenditure, 3D is an experience they can't get anywhere else. The imperative for film companies to make 3D movies is going to be huge."

This year’s SuperBowl on Feb 1 will see 150m 3D glasses distributed to US viewers in order for them to make visual sense of a 90-second ‘sneak peek’ at the upcoming ‘Monsters vs Aliens’ film from DreamWorks Animation. Using InTru3D and ColorCode 3-D specs it is claimed that TV audiences will see “superior” 3D on ordinary TV sets.

The Fox Sports’ experiment is part of their similar journey towards 3D broadcasting, a project echoed by similar experimental transmissions at BSkyB. Most broadcasters admit that the experimental broadcasts are designed as much to teach them how the new technology should be handled, as much as generating interest amongst potential consumers.