3-D TV Advocates Say There’s More Than Hype

HBO, ESPN look at content, technology, costs

Are we finally past the hype phase of 3-D TV?

That was one of the big questions addressed Tuesday by a CES panel whose speakers included executives from HBO and ESPN. For the most part, the panel suggested that 3-D TV is finally becoming a reality for consumers—but even so, when asked whether we've seen the end of 3-D hype, ESPN strategic business planning and development vp Bryan Burns said, "We're at CES. This is the hype show."

In the same vein, HBO chief technology officer Robert Zitter said the hype "overinflames things," but he added that in the last three years, the technology has made significant leaps forward. For example, Tom Cosgrove, CEO of 3-D TV channel 3net, cited studies saying that there will be 10 million to 14 million 3-D TV sets in the United States by the end of this year.

"We've seen this movie before," Burns said. (He later elaborated: "We have been to this rodeo before.") Recalling the adoption of high-definition TVs, he noted that it takes years for these technologies to make it into the homes of a critical mass of consumers. He said, "It took a long time for consumers to stand up and say, 'I want HD quality service.'"

With his tongue in his cheek, Burns also blamed the delays on one of the other panelists, namely Vince Pace, co-chairman of the Cameron-Pace Group, a 3-D technology company. ("Cameron" is Avatar director James Cameron.) Avatar "raised the bar very high, very fast," Burns said, and it's taking time for everyone to deliver a similarly high-quality experience.

Even without Pace's presence, Avatar would probably have come up, since it's seen as the watershed moment for 3-D in movie theaters. However, the speakers seemed skeptical that we'll see a similar turning out with TVs. Instead, it will involve a much broader swath of programming, as well as the adoption of consumer technologies like 3-D camcorders.

"I think we get too focused on these . . . watershed-type things," Pace said.  "The business model has to work on a documentary, on a college football game or a basketball game. We have to make it work on a miniseries."

And yes, a big holdup is cost. Zitter said an hour of an average Hollywood movie costs about $75 million, compared to $500,000 or $5 million for an hour of TV. As a result, the cost of filming in or converting to 3-D would make up a much higher percentage of a TV show's budget.

Similarly, TV shows usually don't have the extra time in their schedules for 3-D postproduction.