Is 3D television just a great big swizz?

TechRadar uncovers the substance behind the 3D TV hype

Is this what the future REALLY looks like

3D cinema technology has won over our hearts and minds in 2009.

Disney Pixar's life-affirming Up warmed our cockles and the Neil Gaiman-scripted Coraline scared our children.

And while there has also been a considerable amount of 3D-dross pumped out of Tinseltown in the last year, the tech is unarguably superb and here to stay.

So what of 3D in the home? As TV manufacturers gear up for the hype-machine that is CES 2010 is there a danger that we are being sold a version of 3D gaming or Blu-ray that is a little bit too far removed from reality? The likes of Sky and Sony would have us believe that 2010 is set to be the year that 3D in the home reaches a tipping point and goes mass market.

But is this all a great big swizz? Is it the latest attempts of a home entertainment industry desperate to sell us the Next Big Thing? While we all love and desire cool new tech, is the time right for you to start thinking about investing in a 3D-capable television in 2010?

Risky business with Sky 3D

"Generally speaking I think that 3D will be a 'minority sport' for some time to come, at least within the television environment," says Julian Clover, Editorial Director and European Digital Analyst at Broadband TV News.

"We must remember that HD still has a relatively small audience, particularly outside the UK. It makes sense that Sky should start with a PPV channel and I expect others will do the same," adds Clover.

Others in the industry think that there is a danger that Sky is pushing for 3D TV too much, too soon.

"Sky waited until HD TVs were sufficiently widespread in the market before launching Sky HD but I think it's taking a risk by offering 3D TV so soon," thinks Grant Rennell, Deputy Editor of What Satellite and Digital TV magazine.

"It depends how many channels and/or programmes are on offer at launch. Provide enough sports and movies in 3D and you may just persuade subscribers it's time to upgrade their set accordingly. It helps that you won't need a new Sky+ to watch it.

"I don't think Sky alone can ensure a speedy uptake of 3D TVs this side of 2011, however. 3D gaming could be a bigger 'driver' especially if Sony and Microsoft get on board. Again, it's a bonus that new boxes will probably not be required," he adds.

3D cinema tech experts also remain firmly on the fence when it comes to the 3D experience in the home.

"Where 3D really shines is in immersive media," argues Steen Iversen, CEO of Sirius 3D. "A 3D image filling out a giant domed planetarium screen, for example, is a completely unique experience, very different from 3D on the TV and even today's 3D cinema."

Plus, Iverson thinks that the idea of putting on special 3D glasses goes hand in hand with "preparing for a special experience, like an attraction ride, an event… TV is watched while cooking, reading, doing homework or other activities. Until we have good glasses free, 3D is not going to be the way we watch TV."

Critically-acclaimed 3D film producer Phil Streather, the brain behind the original IMAX Bugs 3D and producer of the London Eye's recently launched 4D cinema experience is a little more excited about the possibilities for 3D in the home.

4D

"I am working closely with BSkyB on their 3D TV tests and to have a UK broadcaster at the centre of the global effort to roll out 3D HDTV is very gratifying," Streather told TechRadar. "There seems to be a momentum now that adds up to more than hype; certainly in terms of how seriously big brands are taking the potential of 3D TV.

"Sony, LG and Panasonic are all investing millions in developing 3D technologies for the home. The missing part of the equation, of course, is content. In gaming this is easy, as to turn a game into stereo 3D is relatively simple whereas to turn Premier League soccer from 2D to 3D needs a fundamental revision of the whole production pipeline. But, where there is a will there is a way and the large corporations are certainly demonstrating their will!"

Let's also remember that Sky isn't the only broadcaster looking at offering 3D channels to its customers.

A Virgin Media rep recently told us that it was "always looking at new technology to see if it is something we would like to offer as a service to our customers" and, as such is "currently investigating 3D TV and have been showcasing 3D TV content at our Oxford Street store so visitors can get a taste of some of the 3D content that is being produced and experience this technology for themselves."

Film maker phil streather on a recent shoot for the london eye 4d film

GOING UP: Film maker Phil Streather on a recent shoot for the London Eye 4D film

Back to the major TV manufacturers - according to Fabrice Estornel, Panasonic's Product Manager for Plasma TV, his company is also "committed to making a cinema-like 3D experience a reality for the home," just like Sky, Sony, LG and the rest.

"Panasonic's involvement in 3D technology throughout the value chain puts the company in a unique position to lead the space," Estornel told TechRadar. "Panasonic plans to launch 3D-capable televisions and Blu-ray Disc players in 2010 and thinks that movies will be the biggest market driver for 3D.

"The studios are showing a strong commitment through the development of more and more advanced and exciting content for theater viewing. All future Disney and Dreamworks' titles will be available in 3D, and 2009 alone will see a total of 17 3D titles released [and] 3D home cinema will then allow consumers to take this experience home. We also believe that highly entertaining 3D content will be developed for gaming, travel documentaries, concerts, sports and more," says the Panasonic marketing man.