3D TV was top of the agenda at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, although some remain sceptical. There was also a recognition that broadband connected devices and displays will have a perhaps more significant influence on television viewing in the near term. The National Association of Broadcasters now talks of broader-casting, in an attempt to embrace broadband and mobile in this new multiplatform world, but there is still an underlying assumption that realtime transmission will remain the norm.
The emphasis on 3DTV seemed disproportionate to the actual number of viewers that will be able to watch stereoscopic television in the next few years. It may be a false assumption that what works well in movie theatres is equally applicable in the home. There was also some scepticism among many delegates that 3DTV was simply an attempt by the consumer electronics industry to promote the natural successor to HDTV.
Sony is placing a big bet on 3D and is uniquely placed to invest and benefit across the entire chain, from cameras to displays. A keynote presentation from Sony laid out its lens to living room vision.
Hiroshi Yoshioka, the deputy president of Sony, who is responsible for its consumer products group, led the line. “3D will transform the way entertainment is produced and experienced,” he said. While “poorly executed 3D harms consumer perception,” he said, “3D is a natural experience and is how most of us see the world every day”. He said he expects demand for 3D televisions to grow to around 100 million units over the next three years, which is ahead of many industry forecasts.
The Sony presentation included a sequence from the Masters Golf Tournament, which had been shown in 3D on cable and online. While undoubtedly visually impressive it is not entirely clear what depth it really adds to the coverage. Enthusiasts will say that it allows viewers to see the lie of the green better but the temptation for directors to show off trick shots appears irresistible.
Jeffrey Katzenberg, the chief executive of Dreamworks is a firm fan of 3D, provided it is not used as a gimmick. He said it will be “as transformative as colour”. He was recently critical of an attempt by a rival studio to jump on the 3D effect by converting the Clash of the Titans movie to 3D in post-production.
One of the undoubted problems with stereoscopic television is the need to wear special glasses to filter the images for each eye. The active shutter versions are less practical and certainly more expensive than the passive polarised lenses, which may ultimately be available in prescription lenses and designer frames, but the problem of needing to wear dark glasses to watch television remains.
There is the potential to have autosteroscopic displays that do not require glasses, using either lenticular screens or parallax barriers to filter images to each eye. This may limit the viewing position, but could be applicable to mobile phones and other handheld devices. A demonstration from Masterimage appeared effective in providing a personal immersive 3D experience, the most obvious applications of which may be games and adult entertainment, rather than television.
Beyond the obvious emphasis on 3D at NAB was the acceptance of the significance of new forms of digital distribution, with many conference sessions covering the supposed competition between broadcast and broadband. In practice they can be seen as complementary.
The NAB Show has decided to term this broader-casting. The National Association of Broadcasters now has a registered trade mark on the term.
As an organisation lobbying on behalf of broadcast television, the NAB is predictably opposed to plans to use more of their spectrum to deliver wireless broadband services.
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, argued that more bandwidth was needed for data. He acknowledged that “Many broadcasters still supply important connective tissue holding our communities together.” However, he said the ability to remain competitive in mobile data services was inhibited by lack spectrum.
The National Broadband Plan proposes to free up more spectrum for mobile broadband, some of which could come from broadcasters. He reassured them that any spectrum reallocation should be voluntary and that broadcasters could benefit financially.
“Whatever we might think or hope,” he said “the mobile web — and the opportunities it provides, and the data demand it will generate — won’t go away.”
The pace of technological change appears to be accelerating exponentially. That is the view of inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil who was among the speakers at the conference. The documentary movie of his book The Singularity is Near suggests that our intelligence will become increasingly non-biological. To some in the audience it sounded like a distopian vision in which information technology will become a billion times more powerful in the next 25 years. He was asked: “Are we still going to go to the beach?”
Attendance at NAB was apparently back up on the previous year, with 88,000 registered before the show and on site, although that remains less than in former years. While the mood was optimistic, it seemed evident to some that the future of broadcast television is no more certain than the future of newspapers.
Judging by the number of journalists with iPads, the future of media may be neither television nor newspaper, but something in between. Whether it will be seen in 3D is still open to question.