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Poor quality 3DTVs are harming the market

19 December 2011
Poor quality 3DTVs are harming the market

Consumer electronics firms have shot themselves in the foot by pushing technically inadequate 3DTVs to market, the analyst IHS Screen Digest/iSuppli has stated. While its own new figures show 3DTV sales on the rise it also questions whether consumers actually want to view 3DTV content. Tom Morrod, senior principle analyst for TV and broadcast technology at IHS Screen Digest and IHS iSuppli, is not convinced that people want to watch 3DTV at home due to the current raft of technology which, “while improving, is entrenching a lot of bad 3DTV sets into the homes of primarily trend setters, early adopters and the people who pay high-end subscriptions to pay-TV.” The problem, as Morrod sees it, lies with active TVs with low frame rates and lots of cross talk which create a poor viewing experience. These were shipped in volume early on, by every major brand, and took a chunk of the early adopter market, but subsequently proved not to be good enough to encourage much actual viewing of content in 3D, which has stifled demand and revenue from this key segment of consumers. "Some newer higher frame rate active sets incorporate ‘blank’ frames between frames to reduce cross-talk, and are much better than those that have low frame rates, and don’t," says Morrod.  “By making 3D inaccessible as a premium technology to these consumers simply by virtue of poor first generation sets, and therefore putting them out of the useful market to support 3D for maybe another four to six years, we’re effectively making 3D stillborn and it will probably take both a second generation of technology – especially the passive glasses which deal with most of the technical problems; and a partial replacement cycle to make sure that the high-value consumers who are able to support the market are actually sitting in front of TVs that are good enough at displaying 3D that they will want to support it and pay to support it. “Until then, the industry has somewhat shot itself in the foot, but it’ll recover, to some level. within a few years I’d imagine. The question of how far it can entrench as a technology is then only limited by consumer behaviour and content creation, which I would imagine, for glasses-based stereo 3D, will be event and occasional, rather than mainstream and constant.” The analyst’s description of the state of 3DTV is accompanied by some figures (from IHS Screen Digest/iSuppli) which reveal that sales of 3D ready TVs will reach 2.1m in the UK next year (compared to 12.78m in the US) rising to 5.9m by 2015 in the UK representing over half (58%) of the total UK TV sales market and nearly 30m (65%) in the US. Germany is showing similar numbers to the UK.
 According to the analyst, what this means for the installed base of 3D-ready TVs is that while there are 1,069m installed at the end of 2011 in the UK or just 1% of the proportion of the total installed based, there will be 3.148m in 2012, doubling to 6.7m (or 8%) in 2013, and rising to 17.389m (19%) by 2015. In the U,  by 2015,  the comparative figure is 91.8m (24%). “More and more TV set vendors are committed to 3D in the sense that they have taken the R&D costs and are now in open competition for 3D as a feature,” states Morrod. “So we’re unlikely to see anything but more 3D installed and sold in TV sets.” That said, there has been a slow down in the number of fresh transmissions and channels.

“There is little consumer demand to pay for 3D, and less content than that, but transmission requires extra space since there is no widely accepted or deployed standard that allows HD and 3D in the same feed,” said Morrod. “Therefore 3D transmission costs must be balanced by additional consumer spending, either in subscriptions or advertising, but without sufficient additional eyeballs or willingness to spend, channel launches have slowed and will probably remain niche." Morrod believes that the initial problem is lack of content, especially compelling, well shot, well edited content.

“You can normally get two of the three but rarely all three at once,” he said. “There is an economic issue here as 3D content is more expensive, currently, to do well; and may be more expensive in the long term too due to different production grammar for 2D vs 3D, therefore requiring two workflows. However, even if we do fix this problem, and the economics start to be levelled: lower cost 3D cameras, better automated fixes, cheaper cameramen; and we still have a fundamental question which I don’t have an answer to: do people want to watch 3D TV at home?”  

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