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Coming to a TV near you: 3D

May 19: Once reserved for the cinema, 3D technology is not a new concept, but plastic glasses and real-life images popping from your television screen may be the newest media craze.

Multiple reports point to the December release of James Cameron’s “Avatar” as the fuel behind the 3D fire. Since then, major TV makers have announced their intent to release 3D models, including LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba and Vizio, reported CNET News.

“I think that 3D is a natural progression in technology, similar to the step from standard definition to high definition,” said James Henschen, editor of 3D industry publication Third Magazine, in an e-mail interview. “The home market and the theater market are always competing, so it is natural that if 3D movies become popular in the theater, home-theater manufacturers will join in to retain market share.”

TV isn’t the only medium to be indulging in visual enticement – even magazines are cashing in on the hype. Back in December, Esquire released an issue featuring augmented reality pages, which come to life on the screen when held in front of a Web camera. Last week, Playboy released its June issue complete with red and blue glasses featuring a 3D centerfold.

Despite the attention Playboy is getting from the media, 3D is not new to print, noted Rebecca Bredholt, managing editor of magazine content at Vocus Media Research Group. “The now-defunct Create Magazine had a 3D cover in 2004. And in 1964, Look Magazine offered a parallax panoramagram,” a technology patented by Clarence W. Kanolt in 1918 that enabled the capture of images with multiple stereo views.

The draw for readers is that it makes for a “cool” product, Bredholt noted. “I really think print magazines are going the way of collector’s items in the sense that having a hard copy will become a treat,” she said. “As publishers see each issue as more of a coffee table or bookshelf item, they’ll want to give the reader reasons to hold onto it longer, the way fanatics hold onto comic books.” But although 3D technology is entertaining, unless entertainment is the publication’s mission, the magazine shouldn’t indulge, she noted.

Henschen believes that magazines shouldn’t go the way of 3D until a new technology for print is actually available. In fact, if people don’t understand the difference in technologies being used in magazines versus TV, it could actually harm the 3D industry, he noted. “Unlike modern 3D with active shutter technology and modern HD cameras (as used in “Avatar”), this is actually old stuff. It is old anaglyph images using outdated technology. The red and blue glasses destroy the color and integrity of the images,” he said. “It’s outdated for print imagery. At least 3D TV is new technology and is pushing the envelope.”

Eventually, TV sales will most likely go up as technology tends to drive sales, he noted.  “I don’t think it is much different than the switch from standard CRT televisions to HD flat screens,” he said. Advertisers will have to create 3D advertisements to keep the attention of viewers.  Much like in HD, if a commercial comes on in standard definition, a viewer watching HD may lose interest because of the difference in quality. “The same thing will happen with 3D content, the ads will need to be in 3D to be effective,” he said.

Meanwhile, several channels will likely try 3D early on, such as ESPN for sports as well as movie channels, noted Robert Unmacht, partner with iN3 Partners Inc., veteran industry observer and former owner of the M Street Corporation. It may take some time for network television to catch up, however, since it’s still catching up to HD, he noted in an e-mail interview. “The big question to me is can they sell enough sets to justify the programming expense. It took so long for people to convert to HD,” he said. “The industry worked on HD from the 1980’s and it is just now here in a big way.”

Although Unmacht said that 3D’s entrance into the market is happening faster than HD’s integration did, it is probably going to take a while before 3D graces the homes of TV viewers everywhere. “I cannot see it changing ratings for many years; you need a lot of sets in the marketplace to have an impact. The hope is it will increase set sales, but for now most sales are replacing analog sets with digital and digital HD sets,” he said. He also doesn’t see people who recently purchased an HD set running back out to buy a 3D TV. “I think we just need to wait and see if it will work. I have read a lot about what is being done and what plans networks have but not much on if it will work or pay for itself,” he said.

Henschen agreed. The downside of 3D is the amount of money that goes into producing the content. But 3D appeals to viewers and not so far off in the distant future, both Unmacht and Henschen noted that 3D will be available to watch without needing clunky plastic glasses. “Modern 3D creates a more immersive environment,” Henschen said. “Everyone likes to escape when going to the movies, this increases the feeling.” Knowing all this, it looks like escape might soon be as convenient as stepping into your living room and flipping on the TV.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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