Get ready couch potatoes -- 3D poised to reinvent TV
A model wears special glasses to view the world's first Full LED 3D TV by LG Electronics, the LX9500, during a press unveiling in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 25, 2010.. (AP / Ahn Young-joon)
Published Thursday, June 10, 2010 3:09PM EDT
TORONTO - Put on those specs, couch potatoes -- 3D is poised to revolutionize TV, say industry players who will be touting the technology at the Banff World Television Festival this weekend.
The advent of 3D TV will be a key focus of the annual industry conference, where heavyweights including Brit comic Ricky Gervais, reality show titan Nigel Lythgoe, and Canadian icon William Shatner will share their thoughts on the future of the small screen.
The four-day festival kicks off Sunday with a session outlining the nuts-and-bolts of 3D production in the wake of "Avatar"'s stunning success at the box office and a flood of 3D television sets entering the market.
"It's a really important piece of the puzzle and it's 2010's hot-button topic," says festival director Peter Vamos.
"The theory of make it grander, make it bigger and that you can fight the piracy that way is part of the conversation but it's also really cool, interesting technology.... From the standpoint of just viewing and enjoying something, it can be quite a spectacle."
Broadcasters, show creators and service providers are scrambling to be among the first to offer eye-popping sports and event programming, says 3D guru James Stewart, who will lead Sunday's session.
He says he's been speaking with all of Canada's main TV networks eager to know what it would take to produce never-before-seen effects.
"The acceleration of all this is unbelievable," says Stewart, president of the Toronto-based Geneva Film Co., which mainly creates 3D ads for theatrical release.
"Literally six months ago, 3D TV was two years away. Now it's two weeks away. It's been incredible. There are movies being shot in 3D, we're certainly doing a lot of commercial work, music videos. We did a concert with Kylie Minogue at the Air Canada Centre, there's discussions with the networks about sports."
Early forays into the genre have included special U.S. broadcasts of the Grammys and the Masters Golf Tournament, with upcoming special broadcasts of the 2010 FIFA World Cup set to win over even more early adopters, Stewart predicted.
Hype around 3D TV is largely driven by video gaming, he adds, noting that the technology convincingly immerses the player in a virtual world.
But getting TV fans to embrace 3D has not been so easy, Stewart admits. He points to a 50-year legacy of bad 3D that is giving today's slicker version a bad rap.
"A lot of people think 3D is cheesy," notes Stewart, whose clients include Toyota, Acura, Hyundai, Panasonic and Xerox.
"Those people have not seen digital 3D, they haven't seen 'Avatar,' they haven't seen an IMAX 3D film. They're thinking coloured glasses, horror films in the '50s."
"(This) is full-colour digital 3D, it's not coloured glasses. Don't worry, it's not a cheesy experience."
Not everyone is convinced. While industry consultant Larry Gerbrandt concedes that 3D will find a place on the small screen, he questions how extensive it will be.
"I have trouble seeing Americans watching just routine television with 3D glasses on," Gerbrandt says from Los Angeles, where he runs Media Valuation Partners.
"We're still not mastering everything in HD much less 3D."
Technical hurdles will also make the shift to 3D a trickier one than most, Gerbrandt adds.
"Just like HD, 3D is going to require a brand new feed and let's say a network wants to broadcast in 3D, it has to launch a whole other channel," he notes, adding it makes more sense for cable operators to put 3D on a video-on-demand channel.
"We're not going to see a doubling number of channels out there because you have this huge legacy of people who don't have 3D TV sets."
"Avatar" producer Jon Landau, who won't be at the festival, says 3D TV is inevitable and will be the catalyst for an even bigger explosion of 3D on film.
"What you're going to see happening is very similar paradigm to what happened with colour and film and colour and television," Landau explained from Los Angeles earlier this year when "Avatar" was released on DVD.
"You had colour movies in the 1930s but it wasn't until the late '60s that colour became ubiquitous in film. The reason all films went to colour at that point was because all television shows were in colour and you couldn't allow people to have something on their TV that they didn't get in the theatre. Over the next little while you're going to see television take the lead in 3D.... You're going to see the World Cup in 3D, I think you're going to see concerts on television in 3D and then you're going to see shows coming in 3D."
Here in Canada, CBC-TV is musing about possible 3D hockey broadcasts and 3D music shows, says general manager Kirstine Stewart.
"If you can't make it to the theatre or the concert arena to see something in 3D, in your home is a great way to bring that experience to people at home," she says.
"We're planning on it, it's just a matter of technology and seeing what we can do first."
Already in the pipe is a 3D special on the Queen that will air in time for her visit to Canada at the end of the month. CBC says it will feature little-seen 3D footage of the royal's coronation in 1952.
"The royal family's always been big supporters of new picture taking, photography, all that kind of stuff, even back to Queen Victoria and they supported these two guys from the UK in making a 3D version of the coronation," Stewart says.
"No one has seen it yet on TV."
While there are clear opportunities for event-style programming, Vamos doubted that 3D would be suitable for TV sitcoms or scripted dramas.
"It's just some bells and whistles that aren't going to add very much to the plot but it's still interesting and it's interesting to have these discussions -- where does 3D help and where does 3D hinder the value of the entertainment that you're having?"
Canada's 3D champion disagreed.
"In the future everything will be in 3D," insists James Stewart.
"How soon that future is is a question but I think it's a very natural way to see content and I think that eventually it will be the new standard."
While gamers and young people appear enthusiastic about the technology, Stewart says the challenge now is to win mass adoption. He'll be closely watching TV sales for signs of takeoff around the World Cup final.
"Obviously the World Cup is going to drive people to get 3D TVs in their home and in bars. And then 'Avatar' is going to come out in 3D Blu-Ray in the fall, Wal-Mart is going to carry 3D TVs at Christmas, so that will drive mass adoption of (3D) TV."
He says now's the time for show creators, broadcasters and service providers to jump into the 3D game before they get left behind.
"We get 10 calls a day from people who say, 'We want to do a concert, we want to do a play, we want to do this, we want to do commercials, how do we do this, how do we do that?' It's very exciting."
The Banff World Television Festival runs Sunday through Wednesday.