Co. to put marketing muscle behind its PlayStation 3

With sales of 3D TVs still sluggish, Sony hopes videogames will get more consumers to embrace the technology at home.

The company is about to put considerable marketing muscle behind its PlayStation 3 console as a device that can play both 3D games and movies — just as it touted the hardware as a reason consumers should start buying Blu-rays several years ago.

A year after Sony made the PS3 3D-compatible through a free upgrade, the company has released 50 games, including tentpoles “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” “The Fight,” “MLB 11: The Show” and “Killzone 3,” that can be played on 3D TVs using the console. That’s expected to grow to 100 by March with a new wave of titles such as “Resistance 3,” “Batman: Arkham City” and “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.”

But the PlayStation brand will expand its line of hardware this fall to include a 3D TV set as well.

A 24-inch 3D monitor, priced at $499, will come bundled with racer “MotorStorm Apocalypse” and pair of 3D glasses that can also be used with Sony’s Bravia-branded 3D TV sets. The monitor was first announced at the E3 videogame confab in May.

But now that it’s about to hit store shelves, one key selling point is expected to be that two gamers will be able compete head-to-head without needing to split the screen. The SimulView technology built into the TV and glasses enables one wearer to see one image, while the other sees their own character’s viewpoint at the same time without any interference.

Designers say the capability of the glasses portend new features that could be built into 3D eyewear in the future, which could add more functionality into the specs and make them less of annoyance to the wearer. Additional goggles could include a virtual reality headset and 3D holographs that are tracked by head movements, allowing an object to be viewed from underneath or from the sides.

But in Sony’s presentation at this week’s 3D Entertainment Summit at Hollywood & Highland, the company will say that many consumers already have 3D in their living rooms given more than 50 million consoles already connected to TVs.

Replacing those TVs with 3D units is another matter.

Only 13% of U.S. consumers who had not purchased a TV during the past year say they plan to purchase a new set within the next three to 12 months, according to research firm IHS iSuppli. Screen size, price, picture quality and Internet connectivity were cited as factors when making such a purchase, the firm said, not 3D.

In May, iSuppli said worldwide shipments of 3D TVs will grow to 23.4 million units in 2011, up from 4.2 million in 2010. It forecasts shipments of 54.2 million units in 2012, reaching 159.2 million in 2015.

Among those who are buying, 38% favored sets under 30 inches, which should help Sony move more PlayStation-branded screens, iSuppli said.

The specific size of the screen was chosen as a way to target the college market and consumers seeking an additional screen for game rooms or bedrooms. It also doesn’t create much competition for Sony’s Bravia business, whose 3D TVs are typically larger.

In fact, few 3D TVs are sold in smaller sizes, which has proved an annoyance for gamemakers developing 3D games — a 40-inch 3D TV is typically found on many workstations.

We’re not out to make TVs,” Simon Benson, senior development manager, and stereoscopic 3D team member at Sony’s Evolution Studios, told Variety. “We’re not out to compete with the Bravia division.”

Sony ranks behind Samsung as the top seller of 3D TV sets, according to NPD. Panasonic and LG also rank high in market share.

Sony’s tech wizards, especially those inside PlayStation, aim to make sure the “3D viewing experience is very comfortable,” said Mick Hocking, Sony’s chief of 3D games.

While Sony has been developing 3D for the consumer market for the past two years, company reps said it took the past year to educate the videogames biz on how to fully take advantage of the technology. “One year in we now know what gaming requires from 3D,” Benson said.Added Hocking, “The first phase was getting people to understand how to work with 3D.”

What that meant was promoting a technological set of principles for creating games in the 3D format, including avoiding quick cuts and letting shots run longer and giving various objects their own planes, for example.

The next phase is about how to use 3D creatively,” Hocking said.

One trick in “Killzone 3″ blurs the gun outline so that gamers can focus more easily on looking through a site to take down targets.

The games group has also had to educate developers on the costs to create 3D games.

For the 50 3D games released for the PS3, the additional cost of a 3D version amounted to less than 2% of a game’s budget, Hocking said.

We designed the PS3 to play 3D from the ground up,” Hocking said. “The critical thing is using it correctly.”

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