LAS VEGAS -- Let’s face it. Consumers have been lukewarm toward 3-D TVs in the past two years. Even some of us in the media who used to be hungry for 3-D are no longer drooling.
But never mind that. All the major TV companies, ranging from Samsung and Panasonic to Sharp and Sony, announced a host of new 3-D products at press conferences Monday.
This onslaught of new 3-D TVs comes to this reporter as something of a yawn. Still, it’s fascinating to see how defensive about 3-D many of those CE companies have become, compared to their attitude at CES last year.
In Samsung’s press briefing on Monday, for example, 3-D decidedly took a backseat to the company’s new product strategy: “enjoy and share” all content across devices. In a nutshell, TV’s connectivity – in terms of apps and services – with mobile phones and tablets is Samsung’s next big push.
Boo-Keun Yoon, president of Samsung's consumer electronics division based in Korea, threw in 3-D almost as an afterthought. He said: “We are still investing in 3-D, by bringing high-quality 3-D content to the market.” Of course, the operative word that got my attention was the word “still.” Samsung is “still” investing in 3-D.
Even at Panasonic’s press event, the company saved its biggest news until the end, which, surprise, surprise, wasn’t about 3-D.
Panasonic struck a deal with MySpace, which is now refurbishing itself as MySpace TV. Panasonic invited Myspace CEO Tim Vanderhook and co-owner Justin Timberlake on stage to talk about Myspace TV’s mission: bringing the “social television” viewing experiences to consumers. (The two purchased MySpace from NewsCorp earlier this year.)
Justin Timberlake, co-owner of Myspace, pitches Myspace TV.
Panasonic is counting on Myspace TV to make TV “social again,” according to the company, by feeding onscreen messages from friends, finding “trends” (which programs your buddies are watching) and others. “This is not about web video services,” said Timberlake. “This is about making TV better and making TV at its best.”
As dubious as “social TV” might sound, what was clear is that making TV at its best in the mind of Timberlake wasn’t about bringing 3-D to everyone’s living room.
That said, Panasonic executives did their best to defend 3-D.
Speaking of 3-D, Shiro Kitajima, President of Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company of the North America, said, “We are barely in the second year since the 3-D launch.” He stressed the popularity of 3-D by quoting CEA’s market projection numbers. CEA is predicting sales of 7 million units of 3-D TV and 9 million units of 3-D Blu-ray systems in 2012.
Kitajima said, compared to the time when the industry launched HD, “we are doing well.”
But I must say that the public and the media should give the Japanese giant a little break. Panasonic deserves credit for its persistence, throwing money at the dirty job of producing and delivering 3-D content to ingrate consumers.
Panasonic is determined to make 3-D happen.
Panasonic announced at CES that it’s teaming with the NBC’s Sports Group to make the London 2012 Olympic Games available in 3D to all U.S. distributors who carry Olympic coverage on cable, satellite and telco. NBC is promising to deliver more than 200 hours of 3-D programming on its Olympics coverage.
Will that trigger the public to start embracing the new 3-D TV, just as some major broadcast events in the past helped convince consumers to upgrade from black-and-white to color, and then analog to digital?
The answer remains elusive.
At a time when more consumers are finding ways to view TVs other than sitting in a living room to watch a large-screen 3-D set, more people question how long the concept of “broadcast” TV will remain viable. However, we should note that of all broadcast TV content, live sports remains the last bastion -- still sending consumers back into the living room and watch the game with friends and family.
Market analysts and video industry consultants have been blaming the dearth of 3-D content for consumers’ slow pickup on 3-D. One industry consultant, speaking on the condition of anonymity, pointed out: “I’ve been tracking 3-D from the camera to the displays. Most [3-D movies] are crap.” When I caught up with him last week, he said, “I may go see ‘Hugo’ in 3-D later today, which I’ve heard is one of the better 3-D productions.”
Panasonic’s press conference Monday was heavy with superfluous B-list celebrities – as usual.
Aside from Timberlake, co-owner of Myspace, Panasonic’s guest list this year ranged from Micahel Lang, CEO of Miramax (pushing Miramax apps), Ed Begley, Jr. (eco-friendly homes), to Gary Zenkel from NBC and female football player Brandi Chastain (promoting NBC/Panasonic partnership on Olympics in 3D).
Conspicuously absent from the list was filmmaker Martin Scorsese, director of “Hugo.”
Panasonic, however, shared an alleged Scorsese’ quote with the crowd. When asked why he used 3-D for shooting “Hugo,” Scorsese reportedly said: “Because life happens in 3-D.”
3-D’s cinematic debate aside, the bottom line of the industry’s 3-D push is clear: Most TV manufacturers need 3-D to prevent the value of their TV sets from falling further.
Whether consumers buy new TVs for 3-D’s sake or not, Panasonic, for one, is planning on 93 percent of the company’s plasma TVs in 2012 to be 3-D; 40 percent of its LCD TVs will be in 3-D, while four out of six Blu-ray products they sell this year will feature 3-D.
Like life, 3-D is what happens while you’re doing other things.
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