Industry tries to avoid another format war

Tech titans give peace a chance

3-D homevideo is set to make a splash next year, with manufacturers coming out with rigs that use two competing styles of glasses and even some that don’t need glasses at all.

Samsung has sold as many as a million “3-D-ready” flat-panel sets that need active shutter glasses.

Hyundai is selling LCD sets that use polarizer glasses in Japan, and JVC is expected to unveil a similar set for the American market at next month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Steve Koenig, senior manager of industry analysis at the Consumer Electronics Assn., says he expects 3-D technologies to be a significant portion of the CES.

These competing proprietary systems, which use different types of glasses, seem to augur the onset of another format war, but several industry experts view 3-D homevideo formats as following the more peaceful transition to digital TV.

Koenig says CEA is partnering with the industry to develop standards for

3-D content. “We’re starting to investigate a codec (software coder-decoder) for encoding and transmitting that would be agreeable to all types of physical 3-D display methodologies,” Koenig says. “It will be similar to DTV standards, so it won’t matter if it’s LCD, plasma, rear-projection and so on.”

Meanwhile, studios want 3-D homevideo to help them recoup the costs of making stereo pics, 40 of which are already slated for release through 2011.

The situation “will ultimately force (a combined distribution method) that allows somebody to go pull a Blu-ray disc off the shelf or download a 3-D HD version, buy a pair of glasses, have a 3-D-ready TV, and see 3-D versions of movies in the living room,” says Doug Darrow, brand and marketing manager at Texas Instruments, which makes the DLP chip used in Samsung’s and Mitsubishi’s rear-projection 3-D systems.

But this consolidation on the distribution side doesn’t force consumers to choose one 3-D system or the other. RealD CEO Michael Lewis, whose company makes both types of glasses, points out that Blu-ray discs have enough room to run both an active-glasses and a polarized-glasses version from a given disc.

Also, Darrow points out that consumers may favor a different format for 3-D homevideo than for theatrical viewing. “In the home, you can probably afford a pair of $50 shutter glasses. It’s something you keep like the controller on a game system,” Darrow says. “In the movie theater, it’s probably better to have disposable eyewear, and you can put something in front of the lens of the projector and then have the cheaper glasses.”