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3D TV gets cold shower from Avatar man

Geek spec chic will have to wait

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CES 2010 Judging by the avalanche of hoopla thundering out of last week's Consumer Electronics Show, you'd think that 3D television is done deal. All the wrinkles have been ironed out, and all you need to do is don a pair of geeky glasses and your boob tube will immerse you in three-dimensional movies, sports, and reruns of "The Office."

Not so fast, say industry insiders. Have a listen to Josh Greer, president of RealD, the technology provider behind James Cameron's übersuccessful Avatar, which recently finished its fourth straight week as the top-grossing film in the US, with worldwide receipts now totaling $1.34 billion.

RealD is also active in bringing 3D to television. But when speaking on a panel at CES last Friday, Greer told his audience: "There's so much misinformation and misunderstanding out there about what [is required] for a 3D display. It's a little bit of Wild West right now."

And that Wild West is rapidly filling up with a crowd of cowboys and Indians Native Americans. At CES alone, 3D TVs were on display from Panasonic, Sony, LG, and Samsung. Toshiba was promoting its new Cell processor–based 2D-to-3D TV and 3D-capable Blu-ray player, while LG was pushing its single-lens 3D projector.

In his CES keynote presentation - perhaps not choosing his words as carefully as he might - Intel CEO Paul Otellini told the assembled thousands that "I think that 3D...is the next thing that's poised to explode in the home." He also noted an earlier announcement by Sony chairman and CEO Sir Howard Stringer of 3D TV channels in the US that are about to be launched by Discovery Communications and sports powerhouse ESPN.

Otellini even went as far as to host a "3D tutorial" on an Alienware PC equipped with a Core i7 processor running Cineform's FirstLight, a consumer-level component of that company's neo3d editorial workflow software for stereo video. In that demonstration, happy moppets danced around in a 3D home video while being color-corrected in real time.

Stringer's press conference was a veritable 3D orgy: Jimi Hendrix in 3D, a live performance by sweetheart-of-the-rodeo Taylor Swift framed by a live 3D projection of her and her glitter-encrusted guitar, announcement of future Sony Pictures and Sony Music Entertainment 3D efforts, a reminder of the 3D-enabling firmware upgrade coming for PlayStation 3, and such puffy pronouncements from Sir Howard as "When it comes to entertainment, there really is no experience like 3D."

RealD's Josh Greer contributed to the 3D TV hypefest when he said: "When people see a good 3D experience, it's not really much of a question for anybody." Taken as a whole, however, his comments about 3D in the home were more detailed and more realistic than those of Otellini and Stringer.

Greer reminded his listeners that the road to acceptance of 3D cinema wasn't without its bumps. "Five or six years ago," he said, "if you were one of the guys walking into [a movie studio] saying you were in the 3D business, if security didn't walk you out, maybe they would listen to you for a few minutes. It wasn't taken very seriously."

That disinterest ended after RealD's first major foray into 3D cinema - Disney's Chicken Little - opened in 2005 on 100 test screens. "In that first weekend...we saw three times the revenue coming from the 3D screens than we did from the 2D screens."

In other words, there's plenty good money to be made in 3D cinema. As Greer put it: "Jim [Cameron] told me very frankly a few years ago that 'I'm never going to shoot in 2D again.'"

But although there's a vast technical chasm between 3D cinema and 3D in the home, there's a tempting pot of money to be made by bringing those 3D movies to 3D TVs. "The problem with [studio executives] now," Greer says, "is they've spent a few billion dollars on 3D content and they're used to having those other windows in the home - second, third, and fourth markets. Those don't exist yet."

And so RealD started working on opening up those "windows" in the home. "This didn't happen overnight," Greer said. "We started actively persuing the home about two years ago. We showed up here at CES two years ago, took a lot of meetings, and I don't think there was a single company in the world at that point that really believed that 3D was going to be a serious thing."

But there's one huge problem that looms larger in the home than it does in controlled environments such as those enjoyed by 3D cinema: standards. As one Panasonic engineer told The Reg, with tongue thrust deeply into his cheek: "A standard? This is America - we'll have dozen of standards!"

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