The World Cup is proving a boon for electronics companies as fans look to upgrade their television sets before the tournament kicks off in less than two months. Yet despite the rise in interest, it seems increasingly unlikely UK viewers will be watching football in 3D in their living rooms this year.
Mike McTighe, the chairman of Pace, which makes set-top boxes for broadcasters including BSkyB, said at the company's annual meeting yesterday: "The Fifa World Cup, which will be broadcast in HD and 3D formats, will result in first-half performance being ahead of the second half, as operators ship ahead of this major sporting event."
Pace, which is based in Saltaire in West Yorkshire, has seen profits soar, following the rise in popularity of HD television provided by broadcasters including Sky. Freeview launched its HD service earlier this month, and Pace has also developed set-top boxes for the free-to-air broadcaster.
Neil Gaydon, Pace's chief executive, said HD would continue to experience a strong uptake in anticipation of the World Cup in South Africa. "It is such a great event to showcase HD," he said. Mr Gaydon, however, added that the company was cautious about upgrading its full-year expectations despite the "pull forward" in sales before the World Cup, as operators still remained cautious.
Viewers in the UK eager to watch the World Cup in 3D may be disappointed as, so far, no broadcasters have committed to showing football's showpiece tournament in 3D. The BBC and ITV hold the rights and both have said they currently have no plans to broadcast matches in the format. Sky, which has led the charge in 3D television, does not have the rights. Matches will be available in HD, however, as well as broadcast in 3D at certain cinemas.
So far, only three broadcasters have signed up to show the matches in 3D. These comprise Sogecable in Spain, SBS in South Korea, and ESPN in the US. Fifa said that it had talked to more than 25 countries interested in showing the games in 3D. ESPN announced the deal at the beginning of the year, and its president, George Bodenheimer, said sport was driving the take-up of the technology.
This week, Panasonic announced an agreement with Eurosport, Orange and the Fédération Française de Tennis to show next month's French Open at Roland Garros in 3D.
Broadcasters have used football as a way to engineer 3D's move from the cinema screen to the living room. Sky broadcast the first live sporting event in 3D to pubs across the UK in January. The company increased the number of pubs that were 3D-ready to show Chelsea beat Manchester United at Old Trafford earlier this month. After a positive start, the lack of World Cup games available in the format is likely to disappoint fans.
Mr Gaydon said: "3D is tiny at the moment; it's only really there as a curiosity. It's like HD was about 10 years ago."
Sky customers who have an HD+ box can already, in theory, receive 3D broadcasting, although they will have to buy the 3D-ready televisions as well.
Sony is set to launch its first 3D television in June, and said last month it plans to sell 2.5 million sets in its first financial year. The South Korean rival LG Electronics has launched a 3D television in the UK and said last month that it aimed to sell one million 3D televisions this year. Sharp has also revealed it plans to launch a 3D television this summer, while Samsung is also preparing to come to market.
Mr Gaydon added that the current HD boxes are only capable of broadcasting 3D in half resolution. "3D is only just starting. It will be about providing the full HD 3D experience. That will come through in future generations of these systems," he said.
Experts at the research house Screen Digest recently predicted that more than a fifth of televisions sold around the world in four years' time would be 3D-capable. Dan Simmons, a senior television technology analyst for the group, said: "It's perhaps a little bit early to be getting excited about 3D. But it is still worth getting excited about."
Mr Simmons said that the current generation was still a step up: "3D TV looks good; the experience is on a par with the cinema. There is a big difference between standard definition and high definition. The difference between HD and 3D is even clearer."