Stereo-capable Blu-ray players still far off

Not long ago, 3-D homevideo seemed to be running full steam ahead. There was talk of 3-D hardware being available for the 2008 Christmas shopping season, and the format was all the rage at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Indeed, you can walk into your Best Buy and buy a 3-D-capable TV, though it’s unlikely to be labeled as such and even more unlikely the sales clerks know which TVs are 3-D-ready and which aren’t.

The problem is that 3-D homevideo isn’t “real” without 3-D Blu-ray players, and it seems unlikely 3-D-capable Blu-ray players will be in stores before 2011.

JVC, which is getting ready to roll out 3-D-ready TVs that are already causing a lot of buzz, has no plans to release a 3-D-capable player, says a spokesperson.

Sony, the company most responsible for the Blu-ray standard, “doesn’t have any information to share at this time” about 3-D Blu-ray players, another spokesperson says.

At CES, Panasonic recently demo’d a complete 3-D system that includes a 3-D capable Blu-ray player of its own design, but other manufacturers are unlikely to get behind the system.

“It’s a standards issue,” says Wendy Aylsworth, engineering VP at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). “While any one proprietary method could get into the market and take over within a year, I don’t think you’d get all the manufacturers and content creators to agree to pay money to that specific method.”

According to Aylsworth, SMPTE is in the process of defining standards for the way studios master their content. By June, Aylsworth expects SMPTE to begin writing its content mastering standard for all methods of delivery, including Blu-ray. A published spec should be available by mid-2010.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Electronics Assn. (CEA) is developing standards for displaying in-home 3-D content. Its goal is to generate standards that will make the choice of display and 3-D technology irrelevant.

“You want to mix and match with the least amount of pain and make them independent of how the studios mastered the content and whether it got there through a Blu-ray disc or (another delivery system),” says Brian Markwalter, vice president of technology and standards at CEA.

Standards committees move slowly, however, says Chris Chinnock, president of Insight Media and a 3D@Home Consortium board member who adds that the Blu-ray Disc Assn. (BDA) “needs to pass some judgment on the ways we will accommodate 3-D on the Blu-ray platform.”

But the BDA has yet to begin formulating its own 3-D standards for either players or discs, says BDA prexy Andy Parsons. “We are interested in studying the possibilities of joining together the best high-definition technology with 3-D applications to create a superior consumer home theater experience,” Parsons says. “Compatibility and uniformity will be important considerations once we begin evaluating the various technologies.”

And when will those evaluations begin? Parsons can’t say.

In the meantime, though, Kerner Broadcasting is leapfrogging them. Kerner is partnering with AMG TV to launch a 3-D TV network and will offer an “enhancement” to convert existing HDTVs to 3-D for under $50, including glasses, and an add-on 3-D set-top box for cable and satellite subscribers — before year’s end.

What: Digital Cinema Summit/NAB Show

When: Saturday-Thursday

Where: Las Vegas Convention Ctr.

Website: nabshow.com

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