3D coming to living rooms

Sony, Panasonic to roll out big-screen HD sets next year

With 3D lighting up movie theaters worldwide, major consumer electronics manufacturers are rushing to roll out television sets that will bring three-dimensional digital images to the home.

"Today, 3D is clearly on its way to the mass market," Sony Corporation of America chairman and CEO Howard Stringer said Wednesday at the annual IFA technology trade show in Berlin. "The 3D train is on the track, and we at Sony are ready to drive it home."

Sony is not alone, as archcompetitor Panasonic also announced Wednesday that it is on the 3D bus, or more specifically the tractor-trailer truck. Bob Perry, executive vp of Panasonic Consumer Electronics, said a fleet of trucks built to carry HD 3D theaters that will accommodate 30 people will roll across the country in the fall to showcase 3D televisions and Blu-ray players.

"This really is the new frontier of television," Perry said in an interview. "Over the coming years, we expect consumers to migrate to this as the television-viewing experience changes from being something very passive to something that immerses you."

Sony and Panasonic plan to roll out large-screen, high-definition TV sets next year in the U.S. and Japan. Perry said 3D HD Blu-ray players and camcorders will come later.

There already is a cable channel offering 3D in Japan, and Stringer announced that the Sky Channel in the U.K. will launch one as well. Perry said Panasonic is in talks with U.S. cable operators and IPTV services that want to offer 3D in HD.

These initiatives have "the full support of the Hollywood studios," Stringer said.

Perry said Panasonic is in talks with studios as well and expects to announce a minimum of 50 3D movie titles that will be available on Blu-ray and/or standard DVD by the time the new TV sets are launched.

Wendy Aylsworth, vp engineering at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, said a task force of 200 execs from studios, manufacturers, display manufacturers and technology companies have recommended technical standards for movies and other software.

"It's how do you create a master image, subtitles and closed captions, as well as graphical overlays," Aylsworth said. "How do you package that with audio in order to get that to the television set."

The content for 3D TV won't come just from movies. ESPN is doing a 3D test with the Sept. 12 USC-Ohio State football game. The network will have eight Sony cameras and its own team of announcers broadcasting the game to select sites including the ESPN Zone in Los Angeles and the Galen Center on the USC campus.

"We're going to have researchers doing exit interviews, doing extensive research at each site," said Anthony Bailey, vp emerging technology at ESPN. "We're using this test to figure out how the production looked, how did consumers like it, would they come back, was it something they would (pay for) to see in a theater."

While Sony and Panasonic are rolling out the next generation of HD 3D, several manufacturers already have sets they bill as "3D ready" in retail stores.

Mitsubishi since April has been offering more than a half-dozen models. The largest, an 82-inch display, sells for $4,199; the least expensive, at 60 inches, goes for $1,499.

Sony and Panasonic have yet to price their sets or say how many models will be available. Sony will market its 3D HD TV sets as part of its Bravia line.