CES 2010: Do We Need 3DTV Content?

As I mentioned yesterday, we will need a sufficient quantity of 3D content in order for 3D channels and 3D television sales to succeed, but only a limited amount is available at this point. But maybe that’s not the obstacle that it would appear to be.

At the press conferences at CES on Wednesday, two companies — Toshiba and Samsung — both announced that they will be shipping LCD TVs this year that will be able to convert standard 2D content to 3D on the fly “in real time”. While there are certainly plenty of visual cues that provide depth information in a 2D image, it still takes a lot of processing power and sophisticated computing algorithms to do the job. Is it practical to expect that a television controller can do an adequate job of this complex task?

Well, yesterday I went to find out for myself. I went to both the Toshiba and Samsung booths to view the converted 2D content first hand. And I’m surprised to report that my skepticism was erased by what I saw. In both cases, the 3D effects made a noticeable difference on the 2D source content. The depth effects were not overdone, and at no time did any part of the image extend out “in front” of the screen (minus-Z in 3D parlance), which resulted in a very attractive and watchable image.

This is a critical time for 3DTV. If companies come out with sets that produce images that don’t look good, it could slow the adoption rate severely. A poor job of converting 2D to 3D in real time could be worse for the industry than no conversion at all. But in both cases, the demonstrations looked really good to me. In fact, I would prefer to watch the content in the “simulated” 3D than in the original 2D, because it somehow looked more natural.

The real time conversion of 2D to 3D content has enormnous implications for the 3DTV market, as it could remove the absence of 3D content as a barrier to adoption. And I might be buying a 3D-capable TV a lot sooner than I have been planning to this point.