TOKYO Five Japanese electronics vendors have founded a consortium aimed at fostering the market for 3-D applications and creating standards for 3-D content distribution. Some 65 companies have already joined, the founders said.
"Many companies have been developing 3-D technologies for more than 10 years. And just in [the last] one or two years, products with real 3-D effects have been appearing in various fields," said Mikio Katayama, group general manager of Sharp Corp.'s mobile-LCD group and chairman of the new 3D Consortium. Along with Sharp, the founding members are Itochu Corp., NTT Data Corp., Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. and Sony Corp.
Sharp, which introduced a mobile phone equipped with a 3-D LCD panel in November for NTT Docomo's i-mode service network, has been promoting the need for collaboration since unveiling the liquid-crystal display last September. An initial appeal for collaboration to prepare common ground for 3-D products and content drew interest from more than 140 companies, Sharp says.
The consortium's membership consists of players in industries ranging from electronics and software development to newspaper publishing, TV broadcasting and advertising. Most of the members are from Japan, but the Japanese units of some overseas companies-such as Samsung, Motorola and Microsoft-are also on the roster.
The consortium projects the market will grow to 3 trillion yen (more than $25 billion) in five years just within Japan. Two-thirds of that is expected to come from hardware and content, with the remainder derived from 3-D-related services. "This projection is based upon the assumption that more than 10 percent of displays will become 3-D capable but [that the number] won't exceed 50 percent of the total display" market, said Katayama.
The consortium's purpose, he said, is to "hammer out a [common] format for 3-D content distribution, from authoring to the final output point of display." Katayama insisted that "the consortium has no intention of pushing a certain format"; rather, it will "discuss and boil down which format is the best and will make a recommendation."
One of the most aggressive 3-D developers is Sanyo, which since 1995 has offered a 3-D TV set equipped with proprietary 2-D-to-3-D conversion software. Recently, the company began marketing an industry-use modeling system that automatically cuts out a 3-D solid object based on image data taken from different angles by regular digital still cameras.
This month, Sanyo will start sampling a pair of 3-D displays: a 22-inch LCD and a 50-inch plasma display panel for business use. The displays are said to deliver the 3-D effect to multiple viewers without the need for special glasses. Each has a proprietary "diagonal barrier" on the surface of the screen, which creates the 3-D effect-at this point, in depth only (that is, with no illusion of protruding objects).
"We are going to pile up the proof of safety of the 3-D effect on the eyes and body by means of these products, one by one," said a Sanyo spokesman.
Sanyo also plans to bring its 3-D technology to mobile phones. "In terms of display size and distance from the eyes, one of the best 3-D applications is the mobile-phone TV," said Teruo Tabata, vice president of Sanyo Semiconductor Co. Tabata showed a cell-phone prototype that uses the company's recently announced organic-LED display. (For the moment, it displays only 2-D images.)
Sony, for its part, has shown a set of 3-D prototypes, including a digital camera with a 3-D adapter and a specially tuned PC with image-processing software. When the adapter is attached to the camera lens, the camera takes two images (one for each eye) in one shot. The set of images is then processed into a single 3-D image on a PC. A dedicated viewing visor attached to the PC and a filtered display provide a comfortable 3-D effect, according to a Sony spokesman. The company has not disclosed a marketing plan.
"The 3-D business has a large potential but has not grown big in the consumer market yet," Sanyo's Tabata said. "This is probably because the 3-D hardware and software are not fully recognized by consumers." The new consortium, he added, can help 3-D products gain that consumer recognition.
The consortium aims to have an English-language Web site up and running in a few months. The Japanese site is up now at www.3dc.gr.jp.