While most would agree that 3-D TV provides a captivating viewing experience, it became more of an unwanted distraction than a benefit to the companies displaying the technology necessary to produce content for it at this yearâ€™s NAB convention. It meant that the crowds clamoring for a chance to don special glasses to get a better view of the 3-D content were not looking at or buying the multitude of digital high-definition products for sale in demo areas right next to it.
Surveying the technology exhibit floor this year it was clear that vendors were challenged with having to display 3-D in order to attract visitors into their exhibit booths, while trying to maintain interest in their existing product lines.
â€śThis year everyone is looking at 3D technology, but nobodyâ€™s buying,â€ť said Dave Waddell, national marketing manager at broadcast lens supplier Fujinon. â€śIt makes it a bit tough to show the full range of new lenses weâ€™ve spent a lot of time and money to develop, and which every professional shooter still needs. I think every manufacturer is experiencing the same thing.â€ť
Indeed, the marketing strategy of most equipment suppliers was to provide the necessary 3-D technology (cameras, switcher, routers, servers, and even broadcast cable) for broadcast professionals.
â€śFrom a corporate perspective, we have to show that weâ€™re ready when the customer is,â€ť said Neil Maycock, chief marketing manager at Snell, â€śbut itâ€™s clear the broadcast industry is not about to send signal to the home any time soon.â€ť
Most of the demonstrations on the exhibit floor were made up of existing technology reconfigured for 3-D. For example, HD cameras and lenses, the same ones companies like Grass Valley, Ikegami, Panasonic and Sony showed at last yearâ€™s NAB, were mounted in all types of 3-D rigs. Those offering 3Gb/s routing switchers in 2009 were touting 3-D infrastructure products this year.
On-air graphics and branding suppliers like Avid, Chyron, Harris, Orad, Pixel Power and Vizrt showed high-resolution, template-based (for ease of use) 3-D production systems, many of which were actually introduced last year.
Traditional 2-D HD video server vendors like Abekas, Avid, Evertz, Grass Valley, Miranda Technologies, Omneon, Quantel and others are now in the 3-D signal recording and distribution game.
And even Belden Cable showed two of its 1694-A HD coaxial cables enclosed in a single configuration for moving stereoscopic 3-D signals.
So, the collective message was that broadcasters could implement 3-D services today using some of the same equipment they already own, with a few minor upgrades (or not) if they so choose.
At the Panasonic and Sony booth, where a variety of SD and HD cameras, production switchers and video monitors were clearly on display, the most popular areas were those involving 3-D production. In Panasonicâ€™s case it was a new 6.6lb 3-D camcorder (about 35 have been preordered with a $1000 nonrefundable deposit, according to Joe Facchini, vice president of sales for the company's newly formed media and production services division), while at Sony it was a large â€śEpic 3Dâ€ť mobile truck, built in collaboration with veteran production company All Mobile Video.
â€śAs a company weâ€™re all about 3-D going forward, but we do have a full product line weâ€™d like to sell and we think customers understand that,â€ť said Bob Ott, vice president of technology solutions at Sony.
At the NAB Show this rush to â€ś3-D everywhereâ€ť is a direct result of the box office success of â€śAvatarâ€ť and the consumer electronics industryâ€™s effort to push 3-D television sets into the home. The professional technology divisions of CE companies like JVC, Panasonic and Sony are being tasked with encouraging their customers to prime the pipeline with 3-D content. More content means more TV set sales. Thatâ€™s how HDTV got its start.
Yet some companies, while showing 3-D technology, are lamenting the mad rush, because they have other product to sell.
Michel Proulx, chief technology officer at Miranda Technologies (which displayed a full line of 3-D infrastructure and multiviewer products and even presented the first few PowerPoint slides of its NAB press conference in anaglyph 3-D), said heâ€™s not sure the broadcast industry is ready to invest in a new broadcast infrastructure, especially since many facilities have not yet implemented HD technology to its fullest potential.
â€śI think the consumer electronics companies are moving too fast,â€ť he said, causing a rippling effect throughout the NAB Show.
To ease broadcastersâ€™ concerns, equipment vendors stressed that 3-D signal distribution could be accomplished over existing 2-D infrastructures, using spatial multiplexing techniques. Many are learning from the variety of live sporting events (such as the 2010 Masters Golf tournament that was shown live throughout the convention center in 3-D and looked great) and will continue to learn about the differences between 2-D and 3-D that production crews must become aware of.
â€śThe transition from SD to HD was fairly straightforward and really stimulated by competitive pressures, the move to 3-D is a lot more complicated and the pressures are not there,â€ť said Clyde Smith, senior vice president of global technology and standards at Turner Broadcasting System. â€śSo, I think the transition will happen a lot slower and wonâ€™t be as universally embraced within he broadcast industry for home consumption.â€ť
Or, as Hiroshi Yoshioka, executive deputy president at Sony, so eloquently put it, â€śMaking 3-D is easy, making good 3-D is not.â€ť (Underscoring Sonyâ€™s company-wide commitment to making 3-D work, Yoshioka has not been to an NAB convention since the introduction of the DVCam format in 1995.)
From the local broadcastersâ€™ perspective â€” who attended the NAB Show in larger numbers this year compared with 2009, 3-D is clearly valuable to digital cinema owners and large sports networks, but stations have a lot more pressing technical issues (e.g., HD news production and spectrum efficiency) to deal with.
Of course, 3-D production could someday be a windfall for many in the industry, like Fujinonâ€™s Waddell (whose company showed a 3-D synchronization system that uses 16-bit encoders to allow two side-by-side lenses to accurately move in unison), because they would potentially sell double the amount of product.
But he said heâ€™ll enjoy that when he sees it.