David Berman has an extensive background in consumer electronics going back almost 38 years. He currently works as the Director of Training for the Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA).
HTSA is a consortium made up of the top 60 custom retailers and systems integrators in the United States.
In the 1880s, the rise of motion picture cameras brought about the first commercial movies as a form of entertainment. The 1920s saw the introduction of soundtracks running alongside movies, leading to the first "talkies" (a term that never really caught on, it seems). The late 30s? The introduction of color movies, with notables like the wizard of Oz bringing the art of visual storytelling closer to reality than ever before.
Since then, there's been little advancement in the medium itself. Better quality film, digital cameras, etc. have all improved the look of media. Computer animation gave new innovation what could be depicted within the medium, but no new basic elements of our world have been added to the medium itself for many decades. Until now.
With the success of movies like Avatar, 3D is the trend du jour in movies. But can that trend follow the viewer into the home? David Berman of the Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA) seems to think so, as I sat down with one of the men charged with bringing 3D to your home.
Do you own a 3DTV right now?
Yes. I have a Samsung, one of the early release pieces that came out. And since that time Panasonic has release one that I consider to be a better one and I'd like that one but I just don't have the money yet.
What do you watch, specifically in terms of 3D content?
Primarily I watch any of the three new films that are available to me. One of the problems with 3D, I think, in terms of the technology is that they have not been distinguishing very well between the old styles of 3D and what the new technology is. And people go out, for example to buy movies and see The Polar Express or Journey to the Center of the Earth which were available in 3D but they were developed with the old anaglyph technology that used color filters on the lenses. And that's not a twin field type of technology. There's very little content available that was originated in twin field technology. And that is cameras that used two optics, capturing the image from two perspectives. Those that I know of are still limited to Avatar, Monsters vs Aliens. Up has been released but it's very hard to find that because it's been very limited and there's some stuff coming as we speak. A lot of the animation stuff is capable of twin field so they've been able to convert it on the fly because it was drawn instead of shot with a camera.
What kind of new content can we expect to be available in 3D in, say, the next year or so?
Any of the movies that are fairly new releases that are being advertised in 3D. Everything from Clash of the Titans to Resident Evil or anything that you see coming out and really the animation stuff. Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs is another one. Anything from 2010 and beyond that originated in twin field.
Alright, let's cut to it. When can we get porn on it?
*laughs* That's actually coming faster than you can imagine. One of the reasons I think it's good that you brought that point up is that most people feel that there's very little content out there. And they're right. Because most of it was shot on the older technology. Porn, in and of itself, is usually one of the earlier, you know, genres to gravitate to these new technologies, and I believe that they will be right on it on the cusp of it by the end of the year you'll see quite a few releases with these new twin field technologies.
Because the cameras are extremely affordable.
Yeah, porn does tend to keep up with the tech.
Yeah, and you know I can't even think of a more disgusting thing to watch, at least in 3D, but it's definitely gonna be a driver in the industry.
So, are television stations and content producers jumping at this as eagerly as TV manufacturers are?
I think at first, about a year ago, when the technology was rearing it's ugly head, for lack of a better way to put that, I think broadcast companies were very slow and shied away from it. But I think we have seen it become a primary driver today because of the media coverage and because of the sports avenues. So ESPN was an early adopter there, and we also saw Panasonic join with DirectTV, and we also saw Samsung with Technicolor, and 3Vision and one other company. And the World Cup and the Masters. I think those types of avenues are where we're gonna gain the strongest foothold. And it is a significantly better experience watching a sporting event in 3D than it is in 2D, because of the depth perception. So my guess is that, now that we've got four or five networks who are filming in 3D and hoping to have dedicated full-time channels by the end of the year, that we are going to see a lot more of that happening. We just needed somebody to kind of grab a hold of it before they were willing to risk the money. And a lot of that had to do with them being gun-shy because they just spent a ton of money converting from analog to digital. So they didn't wanna rush out and throw another 20 million at 3D conversion into their broadcast stations without knowing it was gonna be a viable format. So they waited for the guys with money to grab on to it.
How we're couching it to consumers basically is don't rush out there just for 3D. Rush out there to buy the best 2D television and get 3D as an added bonus or benefit to the experience as a feature like PIP (picture-in-picture) used to be. In that way, you play it safe. You get comfortable with the technology, you can watch it sporadically, for specific things like gaming or sports events or on-demand and then as time goes on, you know the televisions they grow at such a technological pace, that in five, ten years you're gonna move that TV into a different room, by that time it'll be full-time 3D, there will be virtually no 2D left. And you'll be comfortable with the technology.
Do you think that will be the case? That there won't be much stuff shot in 2D anymore?
Yeah, I think at some point, probably ten years down the road, and I'm probably being a little too liberal, I think you're gonna see 3D replace 2D, because autostereoscopic technology will be rearing its head this year. I think in the media, and subsequently at CES, we're gonna see a couple manufacturers showing some viable holographic technology and some viable autostereoscopic television, which is no glasses of course. I think we're gonna see that happen in demonstratable form this year. Within the next four to five years, it will be a viable alternative to the glasses-based systems.
Yeah, and that's something consumers really want is something that doesn't require glasses, because they can get expensive. Would you advise the consumer to hold off for a glasses-less 3DTV, or would you suggest someone buy now?
My belief is this, that 3DTV is much easier to watch with glasses than it is autostereoscopically. It is such an impactful format if you are into gaming and sports. You know, with movies you can take it or leave it now. It's cool, but it's the not end-all-be-all, you know what I mean? Whereas with sports and with gaming, it really is. It's a game-changer. And when I saw the World Cup in 3D, it was so much better than the Masters, and it was such a capturing type of experience that I couldn't even watch it in 2D after I wore the glasses. So my belief is that once people get exposed to that, now it's a matter of finding people who can make a decent pair of glasses. The Panasonic TV or the Sony TV, are the two best performance products I've seen from a flat panel for 3D, and both of 'em can't make a pair of glasses that I would wear for more than 20 minutes. The Panasonic has the open slots on the side where all this ambient bright light gets in and causes your eyes to wander, and the Sony ones weigh like forty pounds and make the bridge of your nose feel like it's gonna fall off. So that's where, for my money, the guys like XpanD or Nvidia who have been in this technology for a couple years and make these gorgeous glasses that are soft and rubbery and after about 30 seconds you don't even know you have 'em on. That's gonna be the game-changer. And then when you get RF glasses coming out from Monster cable and some of these other suppliers over the next six months where you're not required to be within a certain field of view for fear that you'll lose contact with the IR emitter in the screen. That's gonna be another big deal. And so, I don't think that glasses per se are the problem. If you buy the technology now in the television, you'll be able to upgrade the glasses and get something in the next four or five months that will make it very comfortable to watch for long periods of time. And again the primary thing for me is if you're a big sports guy, or you're into gaming you definitely wanna buy 3D now. Because the technology is not gonna change, only the glasses. And five, ten years from now when autosteroscopic has legs and it can compete with the glasses approach, maybe at that point in time you'll want to upgrade your television to something that doesn't require glasses.
How much do you think that TV manufacturers and content producers stand to lose if 3D doesn't go over as well with consumers as they'd hoped?
The issue for me is the content providers and I don't really think they would stand to lose that much. The reason why is because they could always convert those channels that they're spending money on for 3D broadcast back to 2D without really hurting themselves monetarily. I do believe that the companies making films that invest in all these camera technologies and the people who buy the televisions could potentially be hurt but only from this perspective. See if you bought a TV that had 3D you're only paying a couple hundred dollars, three hundred dollars as a premium. It's not like flat panel versus regular television was when they came out at twenty-five grand or fifteen grand. So, instead of spending $2000 to get the best picture, you spend $2300 and you get a good 3D television. It's like PIP, it's an added bonus. If you don't use it, you don't use it. It's no big deal. And the guys shooting the movies don't get hurt either because the movie's available in either 2D or 3D and if the movie is well-accepted it's gonna sell in both formats. So I don't think they stand to lose there. If you buy, as an example, a Blu-Ray, many of them come with regular DVDs as well as the Blu-Ray format and an electronic copy in order to entice you to spend the extra five bucks. So I think that, inevitably, you don't see anybody in this mix getting hurt short of the guys who shot the movie in 3D and had to spend the money for those cameras. Those are the only guys who could potentially be hurt. I don't think the consumer gets hurt, I don't think broadcast gets hurt, I don't think the movie studio gets hurt because it's still gonna sell. And it will have both 3D and 2D versions attached.
That being said, do you think that's likely to happen, or do you think it's all but certain that 3D is gonna takeover at this point anyway?
I believe 3D is gonna takeover anyway. Now let me say, there's a lot of resistance out there, but it comes from primarily the people who are not early adopters. The people who wait for a technology to become entrenched are creating, in my mind, forgive me, excuses for why they shouldn't spend the money to buy this technology until it has roots. And those naysayers, you know, they exist everywhere, in politics, in electronics, in real estate. It doesn't matter. The point I want to make clear here is that televisions, primarily, used to be the playground, like good stereo, of the better specialty-type distribution channels. And it was only when they found when to make them inexpensive or cheap that people thought they could buy a TV for $400. The best analogy I can give is nobody invents a stripped-down automobile and then figures out what they can add on to it to make it more expensive. They invent an expensive automobile and they figure out what they can take out of it to make it cheaper. And I think that's the problem with 3D. A lot of people bought inexpensive TVs recently are creating justifications for why they didn't wait and spend the extra money and buy the technology. And the point I want to make here is it's not about 3D. It's about better performance in the television regardless and you can only put 3D on those televisions that have the better processing engines and the better performance and that's why the cost difference.
Ok, I wanna bounce back to sports here for just a second. You said recently the World Cup was broadcast in 3D, the Master's. When can we expect to see some sports that folks care about?
I think there was some gravitation to the World Cup because of how soccer is growing domestically within the United States. You know, for years it had been the stepchild that nobody really cared about. So it's easy for them to gravitate to the technology because their popularity is moving in the right direction and it's growing exponentially. I think you're gonna see a big deal with football this year. There's 14 events already scheduled with ESPN. They've announced the first few. Their channel will go fulltime by the end of the year so I expect friction as almost every live event is gonna be broadcast that way. And DirectTV has a big stake in that game because they have the NFL packages. So I think you're going to see it become a main-stay by the end of the year. And a lot of that, of course, is due in part to people gravitating to the technology at the consumer level. For my money, it is something that is going to be a game-changer. Once football gets in it, everything is gonna be in it. And I think football is already there. I think now it's just a matter of battling it out between college and the NFL and between DirectTV and Dish Network as well as the broadcast companies. And the reason I bring the point up about the broadcast companies is they're at an extreme disadvantage right now. They broadcast at 1080i or 720p. And even though Dish Network and DirectTV capture that content from these broadcast networks, they have processing systems in place at satellite hubs that convert that information to 1080p, which allows their performance to be better and therefore the 3D experience to be better. So Panasonic's partnership with DirecTV and Dish Network will be coming along shortly and ESPN with a dedicated channel, I think all of that will be the driver. And I think you're gonna see Comcast and a bunch of other broadcast companies, ABC, CBS, NBC all these guys, they're gonna be caught behind the 8-ball and rush to get in this game and at an extremely fast pace, following this holiday season.
Do you think as 3D becomes more prevalent, we're gonna see folks pandering to the 3D like we do in, say, Pixar movies, where they bounce the ball past the screen? You know, I could see in the future Brett Favre or someone walking past the camera, trying to get inside my living room...
Exactly, and you know, here's something also about 3D: for years as we were introducing this technology softly into the market, a lot of the content was in-your-face kind of stuff. So people believe that 3D is like the rollercoaster that comes at you, or the golf ball that's hitting you. That's not really 3D. 3D, actually instead of coming forward towards you, goes further back into the television and gives you depth perception. And that's the real game-changer. So I hope that message is what gets out to the consumer. I don't want the convoluted hokiness of in-your-face being associated with 3D.
Photo credit: Mitsubish Digital Electronics America
Eric is a video enthusiast and a writer currently living in Atlanta. When he's not attending showings of obscure movies in tiny art houses, or watching the biggest blockbusters open at midnight, he spends his time writing about and satirizing anything and everything online, from gadgets to movies to politics. Whether in the comments or the blogs, you'll find him crafting some kind of witticism.