Is There a Future in 3D?

In our Top Five Tech Trends for 08, we picked 3D television as one the most exciting. Laugh all you want at the funny glasses (and we've done our share of laughing too) but 3D TV is the real deal. Movie studios are ramping up production of 3D movies (George Lucas' upcoming Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated movie will be released in 3D on August 15) and TV manufacturers are introducing 3D displays to show 3D flicks. The problem, as we noted, is the lack of standards. Unless the industry agrees on a common technology, 3D sales will be flat.

Now, ars technica is reporting that the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) is ready to tackle the problem of 3D standards. SMPTE is a major force in the industry, and helped forged the engineering minutiae that is essential for modern film and television.

The newly formed 3-D Home Display Formats Task Force will look at content and displays, and applications ranging from broadcast to DVD and Blu-ray. The devil, of course, is in the details . . .

The goal of the task force is to develop a standard that will allow 3-D programming to be played "on all fixed devices in the home, no matter the delivery channel." This will include cable, satellite, and over-air broadcasting, as well as DVD and Blu-ray discs. Display mediums will include "televisions, computer screens, and other tethered displays."

Hollywood is on the 3D fence. On one hand, they would love to sell 3D movies on DVD and Blu-ray. On the other hand, if people have super cool 3D TVs, they might stay home and not go to movie theaters. This paradox will, of course, have to be resolved in a way that maximizes profits for Hollywood. Mainly, Hollywood would probably prefer that home 3D doesn't arrive too soon. In other words, in addition to the engineering challenges, there are probably even bigger economic ones.

If - and that's a big if - the industry can agree on a standard and implement it in compatible software and hardware, 3D TV could be the next big thing. On the other hand, without a standard, the technology will probably splinter into incompatibility hell, where, for example, a 3D movie will play on one TV, but not another. In other words, we need everyone to get on board for a successful standard. The SMPTE task force holds its first meeting August 19. Stay tuned. -Ken C. Pohlmann

EE Times