During a recent trip to the Digital Hollywood conference, I found a town desperately searching for the next big thing.
The view from Digital Hollywood looks pretty grim to me. 3-D TV was a disappointment, 4K TV (aka Ultra HDTV) is pretty much a useless extravagance, quality video is a poor stepchild in today’s wireless world and nobody wants to buy movies anymore.
Two Digital Hollywood insiders I talked to in a recent trip there expressed optimism given the breadth and pace of activity these days. Still, I see a town in search of the next big thing.
After its big debut a couple years ago, 3-D TV was hardly mentioned at the recent Consumer Electronics Show and broadcasters have pulled the plug on some 3-D channels. The lack of content and the need for glasses are both taking the blame for 3-D’s fizzle in the home.
Some had high hopes for the autostereoscopic approach Philips pioneered. But few think Dolby, which now owns the technology, has the clout to drive it forward. After a big belly flop, climbing back on the diving board is harder.
Samsung is pushing 3-D TV forward with work on a Bluetooth standard for active shutter glasses with backing from Panasonic and Sony. It also set up a facility in South Korea to convert 2-D content to 3-D.
Live sports is a big missing piece. “If the Super Bowl was broadcast in 3-D, this would be a different discussion,” said Brad Hunt, principal of Digital Media Directions (Westlake Village, Calif.).
The Ultra HDTV (4K x 2K) displays at CES seem to have left everyone cold. To really see all those extra pixels you need the equivalent of a 96-inch home TV, but even the more standard size screens are way too expensive for the average Joe, I am told.
The trouble is without a next big thing like 3-D or 4K, TVs remain stuck with their role as a commodity product. “We are back to TV sets sold by the inch so it’s hard for anyone to make a profit--and 4K is potentially a race to the bottom,” said Andrew G. Setos, chief executive of Blackstar Engineering (Pacific Palisades, Calif.) and a veteran audio-visual engineer.
“I think the improvement could come in truly lower cost of manufacturing--not by lower labor costs but a new mechanism that may be protected by patents--then TV manufacturers could make profits, but until then they are in a world of hurt,” he said.