Seeing is believing

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3D television offers consumers a totally new viewing experience. However it comes with significant challenges including the cost of its hardware and software, compatibility issues and health concerns. George Cole investigates how manufacturers plan to address these issues.

The television market thrives on innovation, whether it’s widescreen, digital TV, HDTV, or the latest television format to reach the market – 3DTV. The technology has certainly gained a high profile, but is it enough to convince consumers that 3D is a technology worth investing in? Tom Monetto, Sharp’s Aquos product manager, explains: “Any new technology that enriches the viewing experience for the consumer and renews interest in purchasing a new TV must be seen as a positive for the industry. In addition, this is a way to sell premium products.” Christian Brown, Sony’s senior category marketing manager, has no doubts: “3D gives the home entertainment experience a whole new level, allowing the consumer to become completely immersed in what their watching. If we look at how the HD market has grown continually over the last few years, we can see there is a robust and healthy appetite for the latest technology. 3D is a huge leap forward in how we enjoy entertainment.”

The success of 3D movies, such as Avatar, has driven demand from consumers for 3D in the home, says Joni Shakles, Philips’ customer marketing manager, “This presents an opportunity for our industry to engage with the consumer by using the buzz to create a genuinely new and exciting feature. It also provides the perfect reason for consumers to trade up, easing the decline in average prices.” Steve Lucas, Panasonic’s product specialist, says: “3D will become a major trend in the home entertainment market.” For George Mead, LG’s TV marketing manager, 3DTV is: “One of the most significant recent developments in home entertainment technology and is very important to the consumer electronics industry. By adding a whole new dimension to the current viewing experience, 3D TV brings consumers closer to the action and allows them to be totally immersed in their favourite films, documentaries and sporting events.” Samsung says that 3DTV is very important to the consumer electronics industry, because it is a technology that can immerse the viewer in a way that no other technology has managed previously.

Selling the 3D concept

So, there is no shortage of manufacturers and products supporting 3D, but what can retailers do to sell the concept to consumers? “For retailers it is important to demonstrate 3D to consumers as a system and in a living room type of environment – as they would experience it at home. Most consumers have not experienced 3D on a TV so it is crucial to show them a wide range of content such as TV shows, sport and films,” says Philips’ Shakles. She adds that retailers must carefully explain what 3D can offer; that it is a complete system not just a standalone TV set – and where and how consumers can access the content. “It’s important that retailers cut through the confusion surrounding 3D and use their expertise to sell-up to the new technology,” states Shakles. Sony is training around 500 dedicated demonstration staff to go into retailers, where they will show consumers the 3D technology available, and discuss all its advantages. And Sony’s Brown has a welcome message for high-street retailers: “No online retailers will be ranging 3D, as we believe that for consumers to understand the benefits of the technology, it needs to be demonstrated.”

Samsung has supported retailers with a ‘3D Island,’ that includes a 3DTV, 3D Blu-ray player and two pairs of glasses. The company adds that it is important that sales staff are well trained in the technology, and Samsung has a 3DTV training team that covers the entire country. Panasonic is making demonstration material available for use in store, while Sharp’s Monetto, says: “Retailers will need to invest in dedicated demonstration zones, and be very specific about all the elements required by a consumer to enjoy a 3D experience at home: like needing glasses for all the family, a 3D Blu Ray player or Sky 3D and a 3D ready TV.” LG’s Mead, states: “In-store demonstrations are absolutely fundamental for retailers to engage consumers with 3DTV and really showcase the immersive viewing experience available – with this technology, seeing is believing.”

The challenges

Although a 3DTV demonstration can look very impressive, there are a number of challenges to selling 3DTV to the public – the cost of the hardware and software; confusion over passive versus active systems (some companies, such as LG and Samsung, support both); compatibility issues with different types of 3DTV systems and the (so far) limited content available (a small number of Blu-ray 3D titles). Companies are divided over which of these issues is the biggest hurdle. “3DTV is not much more expensive than a HDTV and people are willing to pay a premium for it,” says Panasonic’s Lucas, “Manufacturers and retailers are working together to improve any confusion and there is no problem over compatibility. As with Blu-ray, content will gradually increase.” The availability of premium content is always the largest stumbling block to launching a new format but all the other issues must also be addressed if 3D is to become mainstream, says Philips’ Shakles. The company plans to offer upgrade packs, which will allow purchasers to upgrade Philips’ 3D-ready sets to full 3D. This means consumers can decide when they are ready to upgrade to 3D. “It’s crucial that the whole industry does everything in its power to keep the path to 3D simple, to avoid jargon and to not over complicate the message,” adds Shakles.

Sharp’s Monetto says: “The biggest challenge to the 3DTV market is content. Sky 3D will play a major role in convincing consumers to trade up to a 3D ready TV set.” LG’s Mead also thinks that content will be a key driver in consumer demand. “The launch of the Sky 3D channel in autumn this year will provide consumers with a wealth of content and interest in 3D gaming is also growing rapidly. The film studios have made a huge investment and there is no sign of 3D film releases slowing down.” Samsung agrees that 3DTV currently suffers from a small range of 3D content, however this will very soon improve greatly. Sony’s Brown adds: “Content will be the biggest challenge for the 3DTV market. However, with lots of content already coming onto the market, and a lot more on the horizon for 2010, we believe this challenge is only very short lived; there are more than 100 new 3D movies planned for 2012.”

Health issues

Some press reports have reported health issues over watching 3DTV and some manufacturers list some worrying health warnings. So how can consumers’ fears be addressed? Shakles says that there is no evidence to suggest that watching 3D at home or in the cinema has any negative effects on health. A minority of viewers may experience short-term visual discomfort, predominantly due to watching content not originally intended to be displayed in 3D, or an underlying health issue such as impaired or imperfect vision. Sharp’s Monetto says: “The risk of headaches will definitely be a concern to everyone considering the purchase of a 3D set. Therefore it is important that manufacturers and retailers communicate this to the consumer. My view would be that an end user should first experience 3D viewing in the cinema to understand if this is an issue for them.” Sharp offers glasses with a 3D-to-2D switch, giving consumers the choice to watch in 3D or revert to the traditional 2D at the touch of a button, whilst allowing others to continue to watch the same content in 3D.

Samsung says the key thing with 3DTV and hea
lth warnings is ensuring the consumer is aware that they could suffer from dizziness and headaches, but that doesn’t mean they will. Samsung clearly states this on its website. Sony’s Brown says his company does not believe the health warnings will frighten off consumers, as there is a lot of literature available to give people the chance to make up their own minds on the issue. “The Sony position is as follows,” he says: “some people may experience discomfort (such as eye strain, fatigue, or nausea) while watching 3D video images or playing 3D video games. Sony recommends that all viewers take regular breaks while watching 3D video images or playing 3D stereoscopic games. The length and frequency of necessary breaks will vary from person to person. If you experience any discomfort, you should stop watching the 3D video images or playing 3D video games until the discomfort ends; consult a doctor if you believe necessary.”

LG’s Mead points out that: “Over a million consumers have already enjoyed 3DTV following the launch of 3D services into pubs nationwide. However, as with all electrical goods, there are user guidelines and recommendations that accompany 3DTVs. These are to make sure that people get the very best experience from their new product whilst also using it in a safe and sensible way.” LG has put this information on its product packaging and says that its technology specialists are always on hand via the customer service helpline to answer any questions consumers might have.

The latest developments

On a brighter note, there are many new 3D products to look out for. Philips says all of its highest specified sets will be 3D Ready in 2010. Philips range of 3D ready TVs in 2010 will include 40in and 46in versions of the 8605 and 9705 LED ranges. A further development will be the launch at IFA of a new version of Philips Cinema 21:9 TV, which will also be 3D ready. All of these sets will be upgradable to 3D with an optional pack, consisting of a transmitter and two pairs of active shutter 3D glasses. A family upgrade pack is also available. LG’s offers active and passive 3D TVs. LG’s active 3D TV portfolio includes the, the LX9900 Infinia, a Full-LED 3D TV model. The LG LD950 is a passive 3DTV, with 10 pairs of glasses coming as standard with the TV and additional pairs costing around £1 each. LG has also rolled out the LD920 passive 3D TV in more than 1,500 pubs nationwide for screenings of 3D football from Sky.

Samsung states that the second half of the year will see continued marketing investment from the company to communicate the 3D message. Panasonic plans to announce new 3D products at the IFA show. Sharp is set to launch 60in and 46in Quattron 3D models. Sony says it will continue to promote its current 3D range – the Bravia HX803 3DTV, S470 and S570 Blu-ray players – with the Bravia HX903 3DTV reaching stores around early August. “The emphasis will very much remain on ensuring all 3D products are demoed properly in-store and consumers are aware of the content that is coming for them to watch in their homes,” says Sony’s Brown.

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