Sony pushes 3D technology all the way

Electronics giant aims to capitalise on format's growth in popularity with introduction of home projector. But at a cost...

It has become the most hyped format in the history of home entertainment, fuelled by the box office success of 3D films such as Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. And now 3D could be coming to a sitting-room near you, provided you have some serious cash to splash, of course.

Sony, the Japanese electronics giant, hopes to build on the momentum that will see more than 40 3D films released over the next two years, from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to Steven Spielberg's Tintin, as well as a slew of Marvel spin-offs such as Thor and Captain America, with the launch of the first high-definition 3D home projector.

The move is part of the scramble by electronics companies to grab a share of the hundreds of millions of pounds that Britons are set to spend on all things 3D in the next few years. As well as televisions, the format already extends to games consoles, cameras and even home camcorders. And Sony Pictures has a 3D training centre in Hollywood, where a team of staff are training film directors in how to film in 3D.

The Japanese company plans to unveil its home projector, which will use the same SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) technology employed in cinemas, later this year. The launch is part of Sony's drive to exploit the fact that it also happens to make many of the blockbuster films that are driving the 3D phenomenon.

Sony is coy about the details, but it is understood that the new projector will be the first to recreate the experience of a 3D cinema in your living room. The downside is that it will cost thousands of pounds, putting it firmly into the realms of rich gadgetphiles and professional footballers looking for ways to spend their multimillion-pound paychecks.

In a recent statement, the company said: "We will shortly be announcing the next stage in 3D technology for the home in the form of our 3D home cinema projector ... and are confident that this new introduction will excite customers who demand the ultimate 3D living-room experience."

Tom Morrod, senior analyst for TV and broadcast technology at Screen Digest Ltd, said: "They are a great example of a company looking to exploit 3D. They have a film studio, they make content, they make the cameras, they sell the cameras to broadcasters and they make and sell the TV's to consumers. They'll sell everything in order to make the entire 3D ecosystem work."

Yet it is in the shape of televisions, rather than projectors, that 3D is set to make its biggest impact. Industry experts predict 3D TVs will be in almost a quarter of all British homes by 2014. More than 210,000 sets will be sold this year – a tiny fraction of the 10 million sets that will be bought. But this is expected to rise to almost four million in 2014, when they will account for more than 40 per cent of all TV sales.

Ironically, the principles of 3D are decidedly old technology. Stereoscopy, the proper name for 3D, was invented by English physicist Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838. The format suffered a series of false dawns, most notably in the 1950s with a series of seriously bad B-movies watched through cardboard green and red glasses. The anaglyph system used at that time was clumsy and difficult for the brain to process, leading to headaches and eyestrain.

But the rise of digital technology has enabled more sophisticated forms of 3D which are gentler on the eye, helping the format finally to match critical, as well as commercial, expectations in the cinema.

Despite the advances, it remains a moot point as to whether homeowners actually want to recreate the 3D cinematic experience. Kieran Alger, editor of the gadget magazine T3, said: "I'm not sure the demand for 3D TV is there right now. Films like Avatar certainly reignited interest in 3D's potential, and demonstrated how much it's moved on from the cardboard glasses of the past. But it doesn't feel like that has translated into people seeing a benefit of 3D in the home."

Despite the launch of Sky's 3D channel in October, which will feature football, golf and a dinosaur film fronted by Sir David Attenborough, there remains a serious shortage of 3D content.

"One of the big problems the manufacturers need to address is the availability of content. Sony has really gone to town on this, pushing their lens-to-lounge approach, putting 3D technology in the hands of creative types and getting 3D-ready TVs into people's homes. But it will be a while before we see the benefits of that education at the content-creation end coming through to content delivery," Mr Alger said.

In terms of the impact all this will have on people watching television, Gerard Gilbert, TV critic for The Independent, is unconvinced. "My personal view is that it doesn't really make a lot of difference... on the whole it's a gimmick and it can be intrusive. I mean, you can use it in action films, very basic spectaculars, but at the end of the day, if we're talking about drama and comedy, what you're looking for is quality in the writing and acting."

And Michael Briggs, the TV expert at Which?, said: "A 3D TV in your living room is a long way off from the immersive 3D experience you get at the cinema, and with the current dearth of 3D content available to watch, it has to be seen as a bolt-on feature of a regular TV – and an expensive one at that.

"Over the coming years, however, we can expect the amount of 3D content available to grow rapidly and the price to fall. At present, watching 3D TV at home with the heavy, active shutter glasses is a little too much like hard work."

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