Seeing is believing

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The TV market saw the launch of the first glasses-free 3DTV set – Toshiba’s 55ZL2 – in spring. The £7000 set uses a special screen and face tracking technology that allows up to nine people to watch 3D images together.

Glasses-free or auto-stereoscopic 3D has been the Holy Grail of the TV industry for years, not least because many consumers say that having to wear glasses puts them off 3DTV. Glenn Zanoni, Toshiba product marketing manager, TV & Blu-ray, says, “Having a 3D effect without wearing glasses is obviously the most convenient way to enjoy the format, so we will continue to look for ways to improve and evolve the technology beyond the ZL2.”

So will the launch of the 55ZL2 see other manufacturers following suit? The answer seems to be: not yet. Amit Rullay, UK marketing manager TP Vision, a partnership between Philips and TPV Technology, says that Philips has given public demonstrations of prototype autostereoscopic 3D sets and has marketed products for the business sector. “We believe that consumer glasses-free 3DTVs with acceptable 3D performance are still probably around two years away,” he notes, “and even then the question of their cost will come into focus as most will use 4K panels [Quad HD panels with 3840 x 2160 resolution] which will remain expensive for the foreseeable future.” Rullay says that TP Vision will continue to offer both passive and active 3DTV, while continuing to research glasses-free systems.

Edd Uzzell, Sony category development manager, home entertainment, says:  “While research and developments for glass-less 3DTV for consumers is ongoing, we believe the best 3D viewing experience for consumers at this stage involves using 3D glasses.” Steve Gater, consumer electronics marketing director, LG, notes that his company showcased a glasses-free 3DTV prototype at the CES 2011 show, but adds, “At this stage, the quality of glasses-free 3D on larger TV screens which are aimed at a shared viewing experience – does not equal the quality offered in current ranges. Until this technology meets or exceeds the current offering, our primary focus remains on our Cinema 3D technology.”Stephen Mitchell, general manager – marketing, TV division, Samsung says: “Samsung continues to believe that the best experience from a 3DTV comes from the active 3D system.”

The desirability factor

Consumer electronics companies, Hollywood studios, video companies and broadcasters like Sky have pushed 3D, but a consumer survey found that while almost two thirds (62%) of respondents thought catch-up TV was a must-have feature, fewer than one in five (19%) felt the same about 3DTV.  LG’s Steve Gater says that, “Ultimately what consumers want is choice, which is why it’s important to offer TVs that provide a variety of services, including 3D capabilities and Smart TV.” Panasonic believes that 3D continues to be a key consideration in the consumer’s buying decision, says Tony Stott, the company’s retail support specialist, “Whilst they may not have a specific programme or event in mind when making their purchase, many want to have the flexibility to view 3D when something they want to watch in the format becomes available.”

Sony’s Edd Uzzell says, “Feedback from resellers and market research suggests it is now an important part of the purchase decision, 3D market share is growing and overall adoption of 3D technology is high thanks to continuing cinematic releases driving awareness.” Catch up TV is relative simple product feature to demonstrate and explain, notes TP Vision’s Amit Rullay, “3D is a system that needs new hardware and software, and covers a wide number of areas including: broadcast TV, Blu-ray movies, home movies/photos and games.  Many consumers have not yet seen compelling 3D content and so have also resisted purchasing new hardware. But as the range and price of software and hardware expands, and more customers replace 2D hardware with 3D compatible products, we believe the demand for 3D will eventually take off.”

Catch-up TV has been incredibly successful with consumers, for the obvious reasons – there’s a huge catalogue of content, notes Toshiba’s Glen Zanoni, adding that, “3D is slightly different – it’s a popular feature and we expect it to grow as the cost of 3D technology falls and the amount of 3D content increases. However, 3D viewing also remains more of an ‘event’ feature, rather than the default viewing format – consumers will tend to watch select content in 3D, such as a film or a broadcast sporting event.” Samsung’s Stephen Mitchell says, “There is no denying the popularity of catch up applications – apps such as BBC iPlayer are extremely popular – however, 3D will continue to grow in 2012, as more content becomes available and consumer awareness increases.”

Supporting consumer experience

So what can the industry (broadcasters, manufacturers, retailers) do to boost the 3DTV market? Panasonic’s Tony Stott notes that, “We have already agreed and introduced a standard format for active glasses so that those consumers who buy a 3DTV from our 2012 Smart Viera range can use other manufacturer’s glasses and vice versa. This will help consumers to enjoy live television events such as the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games and new movie releases with friends and family, but without worrying about the cost of extra compatible eyeware.”

Panasonic’s ET5 3DTV range is designed for the price-conscious consumer and each set comes with four pairs of passive 3D glasses – more can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of a single pair of active glasses. “Having a dedicated demonstration area with lighting that mirrors that of the home along with some good quality demo footage is sure to increase up-selling opportunities,” adds Tony Stott.

Samsung’s Stephen Mitchell says that his company has made 3D a feature within its Smart TV range, adding that Samsung will continue to work with content providers and broadcasters to provide consumers with the best possible 3D viewing experience. As with all new technologies, the in-store experience remains critical to promoting 3D technology, says Toshiba’s Glen Zanoni, “The key for many consumers – particularly those who haven’t experienced 3DTV before – is the first impression. Giving consumers easy access to experience 3D for the first time in stores, using quality 3D content and the right lighting/viewing environment can make all the difference,” he adds. LG’s Steve Gater says, “3DTV really must be seen to be believed and it’s great for the industry that the London 2012 Olympic Games are being transmitted in 3D, promising one of the biggest captive audiences of any event this year   We know from demonstrating our Cinema 3DTVs on roadshows that consumer feedback has been extremely positive. Therefore, the more in-store demonstrations that manufacturers and dealers can provide, the more chance consumers will leave with an upgraded premium TV.” 

Content and hardware

There has been a real shift in the amount of 3D content and services available during the past year, says TP Vision’s Amit Rullay, “3D Blu-ray content has become more prevalent, and the availability of other aspects of entertainment such as 3D-enabled photography, movies and websites has also increased. The launch of Sky’s 3D channel has been beneficial in providing easy access to content as well as selected shows being transmitted in 3D by the BBC.” He adds that the availability, range and cost of equipment has also improved, with nearly all of Philips’ Blu-ray range of players now 3D compatible, and the brand offering a wide range of passive and active glasses 3DTVs to suit all budgets. However, TP Vision thinks that the more 3D content is available, the better, especially on free-to-air TV.

A 2011 Digital Consumer Survey by
Wiggin Entertainment Media Research found that price was the main barrier to 3DTV, with 46% of those without a 3DTV citing it as the main reason for not buying a 3DTV. However, 3DTV sets and 3D-compatible Blu-ray players have become more affordable – Samsung’s BD-E6100 and LG’s BDP-620 cost around £120 each; while Panasonic’s DMP-BDT110 is less than £140. The cost of 3DTV accessories has also fallen, LG for example, offers a five-pack pair of glasses for less than £60, while Panasonic’s 3D glasses range start from £20, and Samsung’s SSG-4100GB sell for around £15 a pair. 3D can also be found in products like Samsung’s combined BD-ES7000 Blu-ray player and Freeview HD product, and Sony’s HMZ-T1 is head-mounted display for playing 3D games or watching 3D movies.

Waving the 3D flag

There is certainly no let-up when it comes to promoting 3DTV in the second half of this year. Toshiba has just launched its new TL963 series of 3DTVs and the company says the series offers a first step into 3DTV, “To support the launch of the TL963 series, we’ve also launched a national advertising campaign, and we’re partnering with Warner for their upcoming title The Dark Knight Rises, so we will have various promotions going on with that too,” says Glen Zanoni. TP Vision says it will continue to offer both passive and active glasses compatible Philips 3DTVs, with 3D technology extending from the higher ranges to include the mid-market 6 series sets for the first time. Samsung states that 3DTV is an important part of its overall Smart TV offering, and will continue to be so through 2012 and beyond. “We are very excited to be working on our plans for the last quarter of 2012 which includes bringing the world’s largest, slimmest and lightest 55-inch 3D OLED TV to market,” says LG’s Steve Gater.

All the manufacturers we spoke to are optimistic about 3DTV’s future. “3D is growing in popularity, and as the library of 3D titles grows, so will the popularity of 3D-capable devices,” says Sony’s Edd Uzzell, “sales are up this year and more TVs on the market include 3D capability. We continue to offer bundled 3D Blu-ray discs with many of our Blu-ray players.” LG’s Steve Gater says, “The 3DTV market is growing year-on-year, and with the increase in 3D content and new 3D innovations, this looks set to continue.” Toshiba’s Glen Zanoni thinks that 3D will become more widespread as the cost for the technology comes down, although 3D is just one of a number features consumer consider when purchasing a new TV. TP Vision’s Amit Rullay has no doubts, “3D is here to stay. Over time, it will move from being a standout TV feature to a standard one. The technology is definitely here for the long term.”

 

The 3DTV market

3DTVs have shown promising market penetration in the latest 12 months, rising to 29% share of the total TV market value (Jun11-May 12, vs. 10% value share Jun 10-May 11) and in May 2012 rose to its highest share to date, taking over a third of the value of the market.

In part, the growth of 3D is down to an increasing share of the TV market being sold at 40in and above, where 3D technology is now commonplace as a feature, particularly amongst the high-end sets. This means that 3D is going to grow as a proportion of the market naturally, as increasingly larger screens are sold. This is especially true around events such as the Euro championship and the Olympics. However, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not consumers who are looking to upgrade their TV are actively searching out 3D, or whether it is due to the feature’s presence on the more premium models.

The 3D market is becoming much more competitive, with 19 brands now offering 3DTVs amongst their range, compared to only 8 brands in May 2011. Several new models carry Passive 3D technology, so the value share this takes of the total 3D market has risen to 31% in May. However, this means that 69% of the 3D market is still Active 3D technology.

By Lucy Twist, GfK account manager, Consumer Electronics, lucy.twist@gfk.com, 0870 603 8188, www.gfkrt.com/uk

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