3D, 2nd screens may fuel TV innovation

Consumer electronics industry facing a turning point

The consumer electronics industry is facing a turning point: whether to find a new category of TVs to sell or risk seeing TV research and development efforts become unsupportable.

“Either TV is going to get really cheap and stay that way or we’re going to see some innovation,” Jim Mainard, head of digital strategy for DreamWorks Animation (the “Shrek” and “Kung Fu Panda” franchises, “How to Train Your Dragon), told Variety. The exec joins LG Mobile and RealD execs on a “3D on the Go” panel today at CES.

Mainard points to the rapid increases in quality and simultaneous decline and price and margins for flatscreen TVs. With hardware makers in the “value” category, like Vizio, closing the gap with “premium” TV set manufacturers like Samsung and Sony, Mainard told Variety, “the premium manufacturers need to create something new and if they don’t I think you’re going to see value manufacturers take the entire market.”

Organic LEDs might be that new category, but Mainard warns “If OLED doesn’t make it big this year, value manufacturers will overtake the market and the expensive research that goes on at a Sony or a Panasonic won’t be affordable anymore.”

Mainard said that if TV innovation were to slow down due to the commoditization of flatscreens, that would eventually slow innovation in movies. Advances like 4K resolution, he said, “help the movie experience but don’t translate to the home. So if you look at the value chain, there’s probably a lost opportunity there. The most healthy industries are the industries that can afford to innovate.”

Mainard sees big growth ahead for second screens, especially tablets, but is looking for much tighter integration with the TV. Asked whether the hush-hush Apple TV, iPad 3 and iPhone 5 might all be designed to work together, he said “I’d be very disappointed in Steve Jobs’s legacy if they didn’t do that.”

“The real question,” he said, “is who else will integrate. If that’s done in a seamless way, I think you’ll see good market penetration.”

With that in mind, Mainard is watching Microsoft’s Windows 8 closely. Since the new operating system is supposed to span handheld, tablet and PC devices, it has the potential to speed up integration.

“Android isn’t in a position to do it,” he said, because they don’t have the PC space. Windows could do it.”

“I don’t know if Microsoft will get it right, but they certainly have the cash and market presence to drive Windows 8 forward. Having a unified OS would create a lot of innovation opportunities.”

Mainard said the current advances in autostereo (glasses-free) 3D and ultra-high-definition 4K TV are only a partial step toward a really practical autostereo TV.

The extra pixels of 4K displays will help create the multiple views needed for autostereo 3D, he said but “(Autostereo) needs the ability to track the positions of viewers and direct the display fast enough to each viewer. I’ve seen it in labs, not in the market. I’d call that the birth of autostereo.”

Mainard noted that once flatscreen bezels are eliminated, “I think you’ll see tiled seamless displays,” which could be in whatever size and shape the consumer wants.