Creating 3D experience

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Is 3D the next big leap forward in consumer electronics? Not surprisingly, manufacturers, retailers, broadcasters and movie studios hope that it is. All the major consumer electronics manufacturers now offer an array of 3D products including, TVs, Blu-ray players, camcorders and digital cameras. But some consumers remain unconvinced about the merits of 3D, and the different 3D technologies adopted by manufacturers have led to some confusion and hesitation.

The question of format

One area for potential confusion is the merits of active and passive 3D technology. Both formats have their supporters, although some companies offer both active and passive 3D products. Philips offers the Easy 3D passive system and the active 3D system 3D Max. Philips says Easy 3D allows consumers who purchase mid-range 7 series tv sets the option of 3D performance at a lower cost – with extra glasses at a fraction of the previous price, or they can opt for highest quality Full HD 3D images with 3D Max on the high-end 8 and 9 series products, including the 21:9.  Toshiba’s product marketing manager, Glenn Zanoni says, “Our are using both active and passive technology. Our aim is to provide a wide range of 3D viewing options, offering consumers greater choice, and appealing to all budgets and viewing preferences.” 

However, Sharp, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic support active 3D systems. “Sharp 3D Quattron TVs use active technology, as we believe this delivers the best 3D experience for end users in terms of reduced crosstalk and image clarity,” says Sharp’s senior LCD product manager, Tommaso Monetto. Christian Brown, Sony’s senior LCD marketing manager, home entertainment, says, “Sony has chosen an active 3D route, as the technology creates incredibly realistic depth and vivid 3D images. Furthermore, you can’t get a Full HD 3D picture with passive technology.”  Panasonic says it promotes the best resolution and 3D experience that only frame sequential, active shutter systems can deliver. Samsung’s marketing director for TV, Guy Kinnell, explains that, “We are focusing on active 3D, because it best fits our standard for premium 3D picture quality.”

But there seems to be a general agreement about the usefulness of offering 2D-to-3D conversion technology.  Samsung’s Kinnell, says, “We see a vital part of encouraging demand for 3D content is to create features that support the transition to this new experience.  For instance, the 2D-to-3D conversion capabilities in our 2011 Smart TVs and Blu-ray players give consumers the chance to sample 3D without having to replace their entire home entertainment set-up, creating a cost effective solution for consumers to enjoy 3D in the home.”

Sony’s 2011 range of 3D products have built-in technology that converts native 2D images into 3D, while Steve Lucas, Panasonic, product specialist, notes that, “Our TV and Blu-ray products offer conversion of any 2D source to 3D, so that consumers are not reliant on supplied 3D content.”   2D-to-3D conversion is a key feature across Toshiba’s product range says Toshiba’s Zanoni, while Sharp’s Monetto, says, “All 3D Quattron TVs are equipped with a 2D-to-3D conversion function. This is to allow end users to view 3D content, while this builds up over time.” Some companies, including Philips, are now offering 2D-to-3D conversion for the first time this year, “Philips did not implement 2D to 3D conversion on previous sets because the results did not deliver a high quality picture performance, but our Perfect Pixel HD engine now makes highest quality conversion possible,” explains Tom Henderson, Philips, trade marketing manager TV.

The issue of price

3D products command a premium, but Panasonic’s Lucas says, “Initially, this wasn’t a barrier for the early adopter looking for the best 3D experience at home. Now that 3D technology is included in many more products, the mainstream consumer is making more of a considered decision as to pay the premium cost of future proofing their purchase.” Sharp’s Monetto says that Sharp’s 3DTVs offer additional features, such as Freeview HD and a Wi-FI dongle, which justify their price premium. “3D technology is currently in its infancy, and as with all new and advanced technology, there is an initial price premium. However prices do decrease over time as products become more mainstream. We anticipate that 3D will reach mass market price points during 2011,” says Toshiba’s Zanoni.

3D content

But most people agree that the biggest driver for 3D will be compelling content. A growing number of 3D Blu-ray titles are appearing; Sky offers 3D broadcasts, and this summer, the BBC broadcast the Wimbledon Men’s and Ladies’ finals in 3D. But is this enough? “Compared with this time last year, when only a handful of Blu-ray discs were available in 3D and no 3D broadcasts existed, the choice is now much wider and growing each month. And broadcasters are now taking 3D seriously as the next step in broadcast entertainment,” says Panasonic’s Lucas. Philips’ Henderson believes that there has been a shift in the amount of 3D content and services available during the past year. “3D Blu-ray content has become more prevalent, and other aspects of 3D entertainment such as, gaming, photography, movies and websites, have also increased,” he says.

“New 3D movie releases are now a weekly occurrence at the cinema, therefore it won’t be long before these are available to purchase or rent. Additionally, we see more and more broadcasters starting to provide 3D content,” notes Sharp’s Monetto. Sony’s Brown says that the number of 3D film releases is expected to grow from 36 titles in 2009 to more than one hundred by 2012, adding that, “3D Home Entertainment bundles remain popular with consumers – people want to be able to walk away with everything they need to create the 3D cinematic experience at home.”  Samsung’s Kinnell, observes that only a handful of channels are providing 3D content. “We were the first company to offer a free 3D Video on-demand service to Smart TV consumers, allowing viewers to stream free 3D content through a specially designed App for the Samsung Smart TV platform. By the end of 2011, 70 free 3D videos will be available through the Explore 3D App.”

Promoting 3D

Manufacturers are also doing their bit to promote 3D. Panasonic recently ran a promotion offering four 3D Blu-ray movies when consumers purchase selected Panasonic Blu-ray products. Last year, Sony ran a 3D TV bundle deal with GT5, the world’s first 3D racing console game. Toshiba’s Zanoni says, “Although we have not run any specific 3D promotional campaigns, we plan to run campaigns where 3D products are eligible for inclusion. In the final quarter of 2010, we offered a free film and trade-in promotion. This year will also see another consumer promotion campaign, with further details available in due course.” 

Selling 3D

So are manufacturers happy with how 3D is progressing, and what can retailers do to help 3D sales? Philips’ Henderson notes that all new formats take time to become established, and that in the case of 3D, there was the added complication that a full eco-system was required, including the availability of both content and hardware.

He points out that there is a wide range of 3D-compatible Blu-ray players, PCs, cameras and games consoles, plus a wider range of content, so consumers can now buy into 3D with confidence.  “Retailers have a key role to play, because the only way consumers can get the true 3D experience is via demonstration in-store,” adds Henderson, “so it’s vital that a full 3D system is in place and a wide range of content is available for them to watch. Philips is helping retailers do this with specially designed stands, which also hold the glasses, and by providing 3D content to be shown in store.”

“We have been working closely with retailers to develop in-store displays that will capture customers’ imagination and bring  3D technology to life,” says Samsung’s Kinnell.  “It’s important for retailers to continue to support this with in-store demonstrations so that customers can truly experience 3D technology firsthand, but also showcase other home cinema products such as 3D speakers, sound bars and Blu-ray players, which complement a TV and can further enhance their entertainment systems within the home,”

Lucy Edwards, Fujifilm’s marketing manager, digital cameras, says that lack of 3D content has been one of the major barriers to the wider uptake of 3D, and while this is improving, products such as the Fujifilm W3 3D digital camera, provide a great way for consumers to create their own 3D content to view on their 3D TVs, and this has helped drive the format forward. “The key to the successful uptake of this format is demonstration. Retailers need to create the chance for consumers to experience 3D as a system, not one product, with a range of options for hardware and content,” she adds.

Many retailers have embraced 3D and are demonstrating it in-store. says Panasonic’s Lucas, “We support retailers in this by providing training and demo materials for the shop front. Research shows that demonstrating 3D results in sales of 3D products, and we would encourage all retailers to utilise Panasonic support and continue to drive 3D take-up in the home.” Sony’s Brown says his company is pleased with the take-up of 3D, with feedback from resellers and market research suggesting it is now an important part of the purchase decision. “For retailers, it is all about allowing your customers to experience the product – particularly when it comes to 3D,” he adds.

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