Stereoscopic 3-D television could be the next home entertainment blockbuster, the logical sequel to today's high-definition flat-screen TVs. But the path to 3DTV winds through more twists and turns than the road to the Emerald City, passing through forests of alternative file formats, compression schemes, display technologies and patents.
Market analyst firm Insight Media (Norwalk, Conn.) tracked as many as 22 unique approaches to displays alone in a seminal report on 3DTV published in May, and it's still early.
No one has yet figured out a low-cost way to deliver stereo 3-D to LCDs. What's more, many consumer electronics giants, as well as key technology providers of digital cinema, have yet to announce their products and directions for 3DTV. Others say any approach that necessitates glasses--a requirement for high-resolution 3-D images today--will never be more than a niche with consumers at home.
Nevertheless, the hunt for a mainstream standard is on, driven largely by rising interest from Hollywood. At least four major industry groups have formed this year to plow a route forward.
"You are seeing a lot of overlapping activity here because everyone sees this problem," said Chris Chinnock, president of Insight Media, who helped found the 3D@Home Consortium, an ad hoc industry group.
"3-D pictures are showing good returns at the box office and as a result, studios want to put these movies into the home market," said Wendy Aylsworth, senior vice president of technical operations at Warner Brothers.
Aylsworth is also vice president of engineering for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), one of Hollywood's top tech groups. In July SMPTE called for anyone interested to join a task force to investigate the possibility of defining a mastering standard for 3DTV content that could be carried over broadcast, cable, satellite, packaged disks or the Internet.