AVATAR HAS A LOT TO ANSWER FOR. In 2010, 3D technology has moved from the preserve of cinematic events to something which we will be seeing more and more in homes and pubs.
Panasonic is the latest company to show its hand with 3D technology, last night officially revealing 3D capable 'Viera' television sets and Blu-ray players that are soon to be available in UK stores.
The company joins the likes of Samsung and LG in looking at 3D as the driver for new TV sales. The Avatar effect has possibly pushed this forward faster than many might have expected, but it does look like 3D technology is nearly here, and will be here to stay.
That’s even though many of us probably didn’t even think of 3D as something we needed or even wanted. HD was the last big TV technology, but many of us don’t have the right channels or the right Blu-Ray capable equipment to watch it.
Yet the big TV manufacturers have spoken, and it will be common to see flagship top of the range HD TVs that have 3D capability as standard. At Panasonic's 3D product launch held at Air Studios, Panasonic product manager for plasma displays Fabrice Estornel said it is simply the next natural step in TV evolution.
From black and white, to colour, from standard definition to high definition, TV technology has simply moved on, but as with the technology used in mobile phones the pace has gotten much faster.
Estornel described how Panasonic’s new generation of plasma display panels, which it called NeoPDP, could provide HD 3D by running with a 1080p HD signal for each eye. To get the full effect you need to be watching full HD Blu-ray, working by using a frame second shell technology and active shutter glasses.
Attempting to differentiate Panasonic's 3D from its competitors, he said, "We've developed a brand new panel generation which we call NeoPDP 3D. One of the main advantages is the eyespeed 3D drive technology.
"We have a very fast panel. Already plasma technology has a natural advantage of response time, but we make it even faster in order to display a lot more frames per second."
As well as improving 3D picture quality, Estornel said it improved the 2D picture as well. He added, "We need a very fast panel because of 'crosstalk'. In order to make sure you get the best picture quality for the 1080p HD signal for each eye, you need to make sure there's no overlap between the left and the right picture."
Older 3D technology had problems with response time, which created overlapping. With the NeoPDP 3D technology crosstalk reduction, Estornel claimed that Panasonic has made sure there is no overlapping, so that the left eye was only seeing the left frame, with no remnants from the right frame.
This meant that there should not be any of that 3D blur effect that would ruin a 3D picture. The active shutter glasses themselves will cost about £100 and carry technology specially developed to work with the plasma panels. This means that they will not work with the 3D TVs of other manufacturers.
Panasonic officially launched its VT20 series of TVs, showing off the 50-inch and 65-inch models. The 50-inch 3D TV will launch at the end of April in the UK, and the 65-inch version later in July.
Having a 3D TV is kind of useless without having content though, and Panasonic also announced a Blu-Ray player in the BDT-300, which can run 3D and will be available at the end of this month.
To actually film in 3D requires a specialised camera, and Panasonic will also launch a 3D dedicated twin-lens broadcast camera later in the year.
Many of course will be sceptical. The price for this equipment will at first be prohibitive, and then you have the question of whether people will be willing to put up with the glasses. To answer doubts, Panasonic wheeled out Bob Johnston, a 3D content producer from the US, who said that 3D was simply the next step for a whole range of programming.
He said, “We know that consumers are going to go after it. Whether that content is going to start in the movie theatre and move to Blu-ray, everything is pointing to the fact that everybody wants their own 3D.”
To give a sense of how 3D is penetrating cinema, he quoted 35 feature films that want to be produced in 3D, while 41 are confirmed to be in 3D without a release date. It is also reaching broadcast TV, with some networks already confirmed to be running 3D channels, such as Sky in the UK.
Mike Hope-Milne, enterprise director for cinema advertising company Pearl and Dean, was also certain that 3D isn’t a passing fad. “There is no way it is a gimmick. It is here to stay. Consumers are really enjoying this, and getting to the point already where they are starting to expect it.”
The gaming world was also excited about what 3D could do. Phil Brannell, senior brand manager for Ubisoft, worked with James Cameron in developing the Avatar video game in 3D.
"There has been a significant cultural shift, and that’s because of Avatar," he said. "It drove cinema to install 3D projectors and is now the number one box office film of all time."
Cinemagoers also pay a premium for the privilege, and this is important. "What that showed was that there was was a consumer acceptance that they don't mind paying for 3D."
Sky also made moves this year to bring 3D into UK homes, with a 3D broadcast of Man Utd versus Chelsea to be shown this weekend in pubs and clubs around the UK.
One important note to all of this is that the industry has worked very hard to ensure there will be no format war when it comes to 3D, which can obviously hamper the beginnings of a new technology.
The 3D TVs bought today from any company will be compatible with any 3D Blu-ray player or gaming equipment like the Xbox, and will obviously help with the goal of bringing 3D into the home. µ