TV enters the 3rd dimension

With the recent arrival of 3D TV, viewers are set to experience what some describe as the biggest revolution in television technology since black and white gave way to colour.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas – typically a litmus test of what’s going to be hot in the year to come - much of the hype focused on 3D. Thanks in no small part to the phenomenal success of the box-office smash hit Avatar, 3D was the hot topic of the convention as manufacturers including Sony, Panasonic, LG and Toshiba all clamoured to announce their launch plans for 3D TV.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), one in four adults in the US watched a 3D movie last year, and 40 per cent of them would prefer to watch TV and movies in 3D instead of 2D. The figures suggest strong consumer demand for a concerted television industry push towards a 3D future.

3D TV works by showing alternating images for the left and right eyes, which are filtered by lightweight active shutter glasses worn by the viewer. The viewer’s brain then interprets the images, seeing them as a three-dimensional image. Using this technology, manufacturers and content-makers can open up hugely exciting new possibilities for their audiences.

While it’s fair to say 3D TV is in its infancy in Australia, manufacturers and content creators are all preparing for a seminal year for 3D television in this country. As we’ve witnessed many times before, new technology does not often take long to take off once research and development is completed, and Australia’s major players are all readying themselves to be at the forefront of the new 3D era.

April saw television manufacturers Samsung and Sony launch the first 3D televisions in Australia, with Panasonic due to roll out its offering mid-year.

Earlier this year Sony allowed pundits a tantalising glimpse of the 3D future by showcasing two 3D TV models. The top-of-the range LX Bravia features an integrated 3D sensor, while the next-tier models are “3D ready”, meaning they will display 3D with an add-on piece of hardware. Sony plans to be in market by July.

Australia’s commercial free-to-air television networks are keen to exploit the potential of 3D technology. Until industry standards for 3D broadcasting have been developed and agreed, broadcasters will transmit video in frame-compatible 3D broadcast formats, which use spatial compression to reduce the horizontal or vertical resolution of the left- and right-eye images.

Mirroring the overseas experience, sport is proving to be the key driver of 3D uptake in Australia. In May, the first live, free-to-air 3D broadcast got the green light after the Australian Communications and Media Authority approved applications by Channel Nine and SBS to use the rugby league State of Origin and the 2010 World Cup to conduct ''scientific trials'' of the new television technology.

Free-to-air viewers with a 3D TV were treated to a piece of television history with Game One of the NRL State of Origin. In the same week, a pre-World Cup friendly between Australia and New Zealand aired on pay TV. Meanwhile, low-cost airline Jetstar became the first advertiser to create a 3D TV ad, which contained a special message for 3D viewers only.

And while initial 3D TV models require specially-designed glassed to transform the images to 3D, the technology is evolving at such a pace that it is likely glasses will become redundant before too long, eradicating a potential barrier to 3D TV take-up. Manufacturers such as Phillips are already working on such prototypes, with others likely to follow suit. This development will be crucial to the mass appeal of this technology.

It is certainly an exciting time for the television industry. Just as DVDs, DVRs and High Definition TV have transformed the way we watch television, 3D TV is set to further redefine the viewing experience - immersing TV viewers in the world of television more deeply than ever before.