Motorola pulled off a spectacular, if cozy, roundtable event this afternoon on the topic of 3D TV. In the room were execs from Comcast Media Center, Time Warner Cable, and ESPN. Coming on the heels of Comcast’s announcement this morning that it would distribute ESPN’s 3D channel next month, the discussion was both direct and engaging.
To start, it’s clear that 3D TV is moving a lot faster than even the industry folks expected. Motorola’s Bob Wilson mentioned that he’s been working on 3D in some capacity for about ten years, but the real work only began about three years ago. In contrast, HDTV took close to 20 years to become a reality. And while no one thinks 3D is going to invade consumer homes overnight, there is a sense that event-based viewing will drive adoption faster than many are predicting. In the next three years, there are likely to be between 30 and 50 million 3D TVs sold. That’s a market worth addressing.
Outside of the technical components involved in delivering 3D TV, there was also a fascinating discussion at the roundtable about how 3D changes television production. For example, HD sports broadcasts use a lot of tight shots and quick cuts. That doesn’t work in 3D. In fact, if you watched The Masters last month, you may have noticed that there were no close-up shots following the ball. Instead, the cameramen pulled their shots out until the ball got close to landing. That’s a radically different approach to sports broadcasting.
On ESPN’s side, I also learned that they have to have an entirely separate production crew for every 3D event. Theoretically it would be possible to take 2D images and 3D images out of the same video stream, but practically it doesn’t work well. ESPN more than doubles its costs when it broadcasts an event in 3D. Good thing for those distribution deals.
So far, Comcast is the only cable operator that has signed a deal with ESPN for its 3D channel, but you can expect that to change. The undercurrents at the table strongly suggested that further deals are only a matter of time. If they get done by July, ESPN will still have about 65 3D events for viewers to enjoy before the end of the year. Coming to a location near you?
For more info on 3D, check out the Q&A published here a few weeks ago with Comcast’s Mark Hess. That 3D channel I asked about came through a lot sooner than I expected.