Video services

Report: 3DTV Not Ready for Prime Time

While 3DTV may be gaining momentum from the consumer electronics industry, Hollywood, and TV programmers, the technology doesn’t yet warrant significant investment from cable operators, according to the latest Cable Industry Insider report from Heavy Reading.

“Unlike technologies that demand quick attention by MSOs -- including wideband Internet, broadband video, interactive TV advertising, business services, and wireless -- cable can allow for 3DTV to simmer on the back burner,” analyst Craig Leddy writes in the report, "Cable Operators Weigh Tech Options for Delivering 3DTV." (See Cable Dreams in 3D.)

While DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) has attempted to use 3DTV as a competitive advantage over cable rivals with the launch of a trio of a 3D channels, its impact is limited since most cable MSOs can compete in the 3D space with on-demand movies and events, the report notes. (See DirecTV Won't Give Cable Access to 3D Nets and DirecTV Gets More 3DTV Game .)

Since this is coupled with a limited installed base of homes with 3DTVs, cable operators, telcos, and satellite TV providers face technical challenges in rolling out 3DTV. In order to offer full resolution 3DTV programming, distributors would need to devote more bandwidth to each 3DTV signal or embrace video formats that would require the investment in new set-top boxes, the report says. (See 3DTV Warning: Poor Quality Could Poison the Well.)

Most multichannel providers haven't charged subscribers a premium for 3D content. But operators could boost revenue by charging monthly subscription fees for a 3DTV premium tier, and the release of more 3DTV movies in the on-demand window also bodes well for the industry, the report notes.

The report also lays out the technical requirements for 3DTV, and explains how operators currently use a frame-compatible format, which uses the same amount of bandwidth as an HDTV signal, but only allows for the delivery of 3D content in half-resolution images. Rival pay-TV providers could look to market full-resolution 3D programming, but that would force distributors to set aside more bandwidth or invest in new video formats that could require the rollout of new set-tops to pull it off.

In addition to tracking 3DTV interface and standards efforts from CableLabs , Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) , and other industry groups, the report details efforts from programmers investing in 3D networks such as ESPN and Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK), and the impact of live 3DTV sporting events such as The Masters golf tournament and Major League Baseball games. (See Comcast Courts Early 3DTV Adopters, Cable Engineers Push Standard for 3DTV Signals, and Yankees Net, DirecTV Recover From 3DTV Glitch.)

One of the biggest challenges the 3DTV sector faces is the requirement that viewers must wear 3D glasses, which can be expensive (up to $200 for active shutter glasses) and uncomfortable, and could even cause nausea and dizziness.

“The holy grail for 3DTV is to get rid of the damn glasses,” Leddy writes in the report, before discussing efforts to build glasses-free, auto-stereoscopic displays, which are on the horizon but will come with a high price tag.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

The report, Cable Operators Weigh Tech Options for Delivering 3DTV, is available as part of an annual subscription (6 bimonthly issues) to Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. For more information, or to subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/cable.

shygye75 12/5/2012 | 4:28:36 PM
re: Report: 3DTV Not Ready for Prime Time

Hi, Steve: The conclusion that 3DTV isn't "ready for prime time" is an obvious one, and as you note the new report focuses on the real issue facing cable operators (and all video service providers): when to start building in 3D capability. There may be lessons learned from HD deployment. HD was an exotic service until HDTV receiver sales hit a certain critical mark. The transition from exotic to standard-fare offering occurred pretty quickly. Assuming 3DTV also gets to mainstream proportions on the device side -- which is probably a big assumption right now, at least as long as the "damn glasses" are involved -- the question facing video SPs is how long it will take them to ramp up to deliver 3D programming on a mass scale.

SteveDonohue 12/5/2012 | 4:28:30 PM
re: Report: 3DTV Not Ready for Prime Time

I think 3DTVs will become more popular since more CE manufacturers will embed the technology in new HDTVs. Consumers won't necessarily go out looking to buy a 3DTV, but many will end up buying a TV that comes with the technology and one pair of 3D glasses. 

The glasses are going to be a big challenge to overcome. The active shutter glasses are heavy, expensive and not very comfortable. I could see viewers using them to watch movies or some major sporting events in 3D, but can't see viewers using 3D glasses every day to watch TV. 

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