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Geek spec chic will have to wait

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Standards committees? We've heard of 'em

"We're at the beginning of [the standards effort]," Greer said. "There's been some great preliminary work done by SMPTE. CEA's been doing stuff. There's probably going to be 10 to 12 standards bodies that stick their fingers into the whole 3D thing by the time it's done."

But standards-making is a slow and laborious process, while the entertainment industry is a go-go-go world. "I think the challenge always with standards is 'Where do they get authored?" Greer asked. "Are they authored in a committee or are they authored in the marketplace? Left to standards committees, it could be several more years that we'd be sitting around the room talking about the great ultimate way to do this. The problem is we have customers who need 3D right now. They need it this year."

So RealD isn't waiting for a standards committee - it's instead brokering the standards debate itself. "We're going to be very open with standards committees," Greer said, "but we're actually going to build this in the market. Let's face it, we don't know everything that's going to work or not work in 3D yet."

When he talks with 3D TV manufacturers, Greer's approach is: "'You know, guys, there's seven different protocols out there. How about - and here's a crazy idea - why don't we come up with one protocol we can all agree with?' Getting Samsung, Sony, and Panasonic to all at least lumber together towards something a bit more consistent I think will be good for everybody."

Whatever standard emerges, however, "once we start building market share, [it] absolutely has to go back and be ratified in standards."

But we're not there yet, according to Greer, not by a long shot. "This year we'll see the first Blu-ray spec for 3D, which is actually going in a little different [direction] than we're doing for broadcast. MVC [multiview video coding], which is going to be the Blu-ray spec, will come out at the end of this year, which is great."

But Blu-ray, in Greer's opinion, isn't in itself a solution. "The problem is that we have a bottleneck - which is that to really commit to [Blu-ray], we have to throw out everything. We have to throw out our set-top boxes, we have to throw out our AV receivers, we have to throw out all our Blu-ray players."

Instead, Greer is bullish on broadcast. "When we look at this year, we say, 'Well, great. We're going to have 20 Blu-ray films in a year.' Is that going to be enough for people to go out and spend the additional money on TVs? Probably not. That's why we're spending so much time and energy getting DirecTV to commit to putting stuff out."

The numbers involved are rather lopsided in Greer's calculus: "As opposed to being limited to a few dozen people who are the early adopters, we can drop this into DirecTV this summer and suddenly turn on potentially 25 million subscribers."

And the problems don't end with standards and Blu-ray v. broadcast. There are also all those pesky "3D ready" kindasorta 3D TVs being sold today that use a variety of different formats, plus at least three different types of 3D glasses: active glasses that rapidly blink your eyes alternately on and off electronically, and passive polarized glasses that use either circular or linear polarization.

And then there are the different types of TV technologies, each with its own wrinkles. "DLP is very different from plasma, which is very different from LCD - and even with LCD there's some very significant differences there. There's no 'one size fits all' for 3D yet. I think it's going to be very subjective for people for the next couple of years - active glasses, passive glasses, full-resolution, frame-packed resolution - there's going to be a lot of talk."

So what should someone who wants to jump on the 3D TV bandwagon do today? "I think through the next 12 months, things will settle down dramatically. We've got the MVC Blu-ray spec, so that's being put to bed and that will give us one solidified source of content. We'll get the broadcast issues worked out pretty quickly...so what I would suggest is to try to get a system that's bundled, meaning it's got format built into it and it's got a couple of pairs of glasses. Because anything that's '3D ready', you're going to have a hard time putting the pieces together."

As might be assumed, Greer's view of the future is an optimistic one. "My prediction - not that I've been asked for one - is that, yes, 3D is going to enter the home. But I believe 3D is actually going to enter every visual display. Over the next five years, whether you're at a supermarket looking at an ad, whether you're in an airplane looking at a movie, you will start to see 3D devices show up everywhere."

He didn't, however, comment on how those 3D supermarket ads would work without all of us shoppers wandering through the aisles wearing geeky glasses.

And when asked about what would be needed to view, for example, ESPN's 85 3D shows in that broadcaster's first year of embracing the new technology, Greer answered: "A new TV." ®

Bootnote

As if to emphasize the lack of consensus among the 3D TV community, when asked to name the "killer app" that will cause a rapid adoption of 3D technology in the home, Greer said: "No question the other half of this equation for the home is going to be gaming."

Another of his fellow panelists, Levy Gerzberg, president and CEO of digital-entertainment chipmaker Zoran, echoed Paul Otellini's home-video demo by saying "I project that the disruptive technology related to 3D will be related to personal content." Sony's Sir Howard is banking on the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

We, however, predict that 3D TV will only "explode" when Emeril Lagasse shouts "Bam!" and thrusts a spoonful of cioppino under your schnozzola.

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