Stereoscopic 3D TV is a theme at the IFA consumer electronics trade show in Berlin. Sony will offer 3D TV in the home in 2010 with compatible Bravia displays, to be promoted with its new “Make.Believe” strapline. Panasonic, Philips and other manufacturers are also gearing up for 3D TV, which they believe will be the next big thing after high-definition, although standardisation remains an issue.

The new Sony 3D compatible Bravia displays will use frame sequential display to enable full 1,920 x 1,080 high-definition images for each eye, viewed through active shutter glasses. Sony plans to incorporate 3D capabilities into Blu-ray disc players, PlayStation 3 game consoles and Vaio personal computers, to support 3D movies and stereoscopic 3D games.

Active shutter glasses may provide better images than cheaper passive polarised lenses, but are more expensive and require batteries. Unlike other approaches, this technology does not impinge upon the quality of regular high-definition viewing.

Games are likely to provide a compelling reason for consumers to upgrade their display, and here Sony has an advantage with its PlayStation 3 product. Ultimately, 3D processing could be built directly into games consoles, supporting existing titles and enabling them to work with any high refresh rate high-definition display.

Sony chief executive Howard Stringer said: “The 3D train is on the track and we at Sony are ready to drive it home”.

Panasonic is also planning to support active shutter glasses with full resolution sequentially displayed images. The company calls it Full HD 3D. It plans to provide compatible Viera 3D televisions and 3D Blu-ray players.

Philips is promoting its extra-widescreen 21:9 Cinema display and demonstrating a 3D version, although his uses passive polarised glasses.

Sky is planning to launch a 3D television channel in 2010. Details of technical standards have yet to be announced, although the system will work with existing high-definition set-top boxes and demonstrations have been given using existing broadcasting infrastructure. Sky had been thought to favour cheaper polarised glasses, but support for active glasses from Sony and Panasonic could be significant.

With standardisation still an issue, there is the risk that the consumer electronics industry could face another standards war.

Movie studios are meanwhile embracing 3D, with more cinemas expected to support 3D projection as a way of maintaining an audience. In that context, 3D will no doubt become more prevalent.

There is still a question as to how far consumers want 3D TV in the home, particularly if they need to wear special spectacles. Demonstrations seen by informitv have been compelling, but fatiguing after a while.

Beyond immersive games and computer generated images and animations, which lend themselves well to three-dimensional stereoscopic viewing, not to mention the possibilities for the adult entertainment market, the appeal of 3D could be something of a gimmick. The gamble for consumer electronics companies is whether it will be a feature for which people will be prepared to pay a premium.

There is still surprisingly little research or apparent understanding among manufacturers about how people actually watch television and whether the typical viewing environment is actually appropriate for such an experience. What may work well as an immersive experience for a solitary games player may not be ideal in a shared space for a more social medium.

The production community also has a lot to learn if it is to progress beyond tricksy presentation techniques that draw attention to the illusion, rather than creating a deeper reality.

Stereoscopic presentation can present a powerful illusion, but is actually only one aspect of the perception of depth, which is cued by many features and integrated by our brain. Just close one eye to see how much difference stereoscopic vision actually makes.