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CTAM Summit: 3DTV Is Poised to Pop

NEW ORLEANS -- CTAM Summit 2010 -- While few consumers have purchased 3DTVs, viewers and programmers will embrace the technology, executives said here yesterday, predicting that 40 or more dedicated 3DTV channels may emerge within five years.

"My hope is there will be 20, 30, 40 [3D] channels in five years -- maybe more," said Tom Cosgrove, the CEO of 3D Net, the new 3D channel from Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK), Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), and IMAX that's set to debut in 2011. "I think there will be a lot of 3D channels in the future."

But Cosgrove and other executives on a panel focused on 3D programming were pressed repeatedly on the sluggish sales of 3DTVs. When A&E Television Networks SVP of distribution and affiliate marketing Mark Garner asked an audience filled with cable industry executives if they owned a 3DTV or planned to buy one by the end of the year, few hands were raised.

"We’re in the early-adopter phase," Cosgrove responded. "If you ask that question this time next year, you’ll see a lot more hands going up in the room."

Cosgrove said 3D Net is focused on producing 3D programming that will make viewers believe they are actually at a concert, or in the scene of the 3D image. He said 3D Net wants programs that create an "orthostereoscopic" effect in which a viewer's brain convinces him that he is in the program.

"Your optic nerves are not programmed to tell you what’s real, and what’s not. That’s why 3D works," Cosgrove said.

The costs and the inconvenience of wearing 3D glasses was a big topic of debate on the panel. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) SVP of video product management Mark Hess, speaking from the audience, said he would like to see the industry offer subscribers more high-profile 3D programming events such as Las Vegas concerts and sporting events. (See Comcast Courts Early 3DTV Adopters.)

"I think we need to start to find out where people want to be, but can’t be there, and turn those into 3D events. If you’re going to sit there with the glasses on, it better be for something you want to immerse yourself into," Hess said.

While Cosgrove noted that electronics companies are developing gaming systems and mobile phones that allow viewers holding the devices to see images in 3D without wearing glasses, other panelists noted that it could be several years before glasses-free, or autostereoscopic, 3DTVs are available.

"The technology is not there. It's not going to be there for many years. That's something you’re going to have to live with, the glasses,” said Louis Tarantino, the founder of Los Angeles-based Flight 33 Productions, which produces The Universe and other non-fiction 3D programs.

Most 3D programming demands about same amount of bandwidth on a cable system as an HD channel, with networks such as ESPN 3D compressing two separate feeds -- one for the left side of the screen, and one for the right, into a single feed. But Phil Orlins, the coordinating producer for ESPN 3D and the X Games, said the sports networks hopes to eventually distribute 3D programming that would occupy the bandwidth of two HD networks.

"We definitely hope, and expect down the road that it will become a full pair of HD signals, which will require more bandwidth," Orlins said. (See Discovery Prez: New 3D Net Will Need 6MHz .)

The panelists also insisted that sales of 3DTVs will increase, as CE companies begin to bundle the technology in more sets without charging a premium.

"People are going to move to a model where they have two or three HDTVs in their home, and they’re going to get their first 3DTV to complement those," Orlins said.

With a dearth of 3D content, some producers are converting 2D content to 3D. While converting video to 3D may be less expensive than shooting programming in 3D, Tarantino warned that the practice could turn viewers away from 3D. (See Moto Shows 2D-to-3D Video Converter and 3DTV Warning: Poor Quality Could Poison the Well.)

"To me, I think conversion would help kill 3D," he warned.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

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