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BSkyB to bow 3D TV

Service to start in pubs and clubs before going into homes

LONDON — If you are visiting the U.K. this spring, and fancy sharing a beer with the locals, be warned.

You might find yourself surrounded by soccer-mad Brits wearing oversized, Bono-style glasses glued to huge plasma TV screens.

This is because British paybox BSkyB hopes to kickstart a TV revolution in April when it bows what it claims will be the world’s first 3D TV channel.

Initially, the service will concentrate on sports and be available only in pubs and clubs. A domestic mixed-genre offer, including movies, is due to launch later this year on the Sky HD channel.

“We believe this will be the first consumer platform delivering 3D TV regularly to the home,” says Brian Lenz, who for the past two years as BSkyB’s head of product design and innovation has been at the forefront of developing 3D.

As a technology, 3D dates back to the 19th century, and filmmakers and broadcasters have dabbled with the idea for decades.

However, poor execution and the kind of eyewear only a geek would wear in public — as well as a lack of content — always got 3D TV written off as a gimmick.

All that may be about to change — and Lenz acknowledges that the success of boxes office biggies “Avatar” and “Up” have given a boost to BSkyB’s plans.

“I want to say thank you to ‘Avatar’s’ James Cameron for delivering on the bet that he made. We all need to tip our hats in his direction,” he says. “He took on a challenge and it worked.”

The News Corp. controlled paybox first demonstrated the technology at its London headquarters in December 2008 airing snippets from soccer and rugby matches.

Since then those who have witnessed BSkyB’s experimental 3D transmissions, which have included sports, music and dance, including a tie-up with the English National Ballet, have liked what they’ve seen.

“It’s like watching a computer game with real people,” said the Daily Mail’s Robert Hardman.

Strategically, Sky HD is aimed at reducing churn rates and bolstering customer loyalty rather than attracting new subscribers.

As for the level of investment involved, Lenz describes it as “immaterial,” especially when compared with the sums necessary to get HD off the ground.

“We do not have to invest in the transmission structure or new set-top boxes,” he says. “Subscribers will be able to get 3D on their existing HD boxes.”

But auds will, of course, need new TVs. At the moment, these are expensive — around $3,000 — which is why BSkyB will initially be offering 3D TV to pubs and clubs.

The thing about 3D TV is to look at it as a five-year and not a one-year project,” says Paul Lee, director of technology, media and telecommunications research at Deloitte in London.

He adds that “2015 is when I expect to see 3D TV entering the mainstream — possibly before, depending on the economy.”

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