Sony launching 3-D TV by summer

Sony is rolling out demonstrations of 3-D television at its stores in Canada in preparation for an early summer launch.

Sony is rolling out demonstrations of 3-D television at its stores in Canada in preparation for an early summer launch.

The company on Tuesday unveiled 3-D televisions in two Canadian Sony Style stores — in the Toronto Eaton Centre and Vancouver's Pacific Mall — where consumers can sample the much-hyped technology. Sony plans to add additional stores to its demo program in the coming weeks and months.

Three-dimensional television was the top headline at last month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The huge success of 3-D movies such as Avatar, as well as the flattening of LCD and plasma television sales, has all electronics makers looking to the technology as a way of kickstarting a new wave of buying.

Sony said it will make two versions of 3-D sets available in Canada in the early summer, before the start of the World Cup in June. One version will work straight out of the box and come with a transmitter and two pairs of active shutter glasses. The transmitter will send the 3-D signals to up to eight pairs of glasses.

A second version will be 3-D-capable, but will come without the transmitter and glasses in case the buyer is looking for a high-end TV but isn't yet sold on 3-D. The transmitter and glasses will be sold separately.

The company will also issue a PlayStation 3 firmware update, which will make the video game console capable of playing 3-D Blu-ray movies, to coincide with the TV launch. Sony said it will launch standalone 3-D-capable Blu-ray players as well.

But despite the big push to 3-D by Sony and other television manufacturers, including Panasonic and LG, there are still questions about whether there is sufficient consumer demand to support the technology. A number of Sony product managers discussed those issues with CBC News on Tuesday.

How much new technology actually has to go into the television? Isn't the screen just a dumb display that shows whatever is piped onto it?

Daniel Panke, category merchandiser: It's processing. It's really a computer. You're right, a TV is really only a bunch of shutters that open and close, but the strength that Sony has always brought is the ability to process that — make the image sharp, the colours and image accurate. There's a ton of processing that has to go on with 3-D because you're doing high motion flow, which is what we call it, at 240 hertz. Now you're actually doing this on top of 3-D because you're showing the perspective of the left eye and the right eye, so you're essentially doubling the processing.

That's going to translate into a premium cost on the TVs, right?

Panke: 3-D technology is really only in our XBR line, our higher line TVs. I think they'll be equivalent to this year's [models]. The people who want the best right now are going to be spending the same kind of premium to get the best as last year.

Will 3-D eventually be a standard feature?

Daniel Phillips, director of LCD TV marketing: It's a question that remains to be seen. We're obviously looking for mass market adoption of this. Obviously more and more televisions will become available at more and more price points, but for right now it's a proof of concept.

Some people really hate the glasses. The technology for 3-D TV without glasses is out there so why do all the panels coming onto the market still require them?

Karol Warminiec, marketing communications for the consumer products group: It's so preliminary. A lot of the sets at CES had yellow footprints that you had to step onto because you have to be in the perfect sweet spot [for it to work]. If you were even too tall or too short you wouldn't be able to line up. It's a very expensive technology to do and I think we're years and years away from it. A lot of people online say they don't want to wear the glasses, but those are the people who have never experienced it. Seeing is believing. Once you actually put the glasses on and you see the movies and the gaming, you really start to see the possibilities of what you can do.

There were a bunch of 3-D movies in theatres last year and a few broadcasters, such as ESPN and Discovery Channel have said they have plans to air 3-D shows, but is there really enough content right now to justify someone buying a new TV?

Phillips: [Sony is] helping them figure out how to deliver that experience to market. We also have 2-D to 3-D up-conversion, where the TV will be able to take your traditional programming and create an element of 3-D within it. It won't be as perfect as core content that's actually built for 3-D but it will create that additional element of depth.

Warminiec: We've opened up an institute in Culver City [California] on teaching people how to shoot in 3-D, how to edit. We're teaching the industry on how to produce 3-D properly.

Will this broadcast content be available in Canada?

Warminiec: Nothing I can say right now, I can only hope. ESPN and Discovery are looking to have channels live by the end of this year. They're looking at opportunities to shoot stuff in 3-D.

Most people have just bought a high definition TV. How can they be convinced to shell out for another new TV?

Candice Hayman, spokesperson: The people who are movie and gaming enthusiasts are usually the early adopters. They're always looking for the latest innovation, they want the top of the line, most innovative home entertainment experience they can get. Those'll be the first people to adopt 3-D. With others it'll take some time. Seeing really is believing so the demos will get some people on board.

Phillips: For those folks looking for a really immersive experience, this will be a reason for them to say, 'Okay, I did just buy my HD television set but perhaps I can put it in the den or bedroom,' because this is real.

Panke: We're not actually changing anything, this is just a slight evolution of the change. The TV system we had for 50-some-odd years stayed the same and really did get stagnant. It went from black-and-white to colour but otherwise was pretty much the same for about 50 years. Now we've switched to HD TV which is a very powerful change that really opens the door to all sorts of cool stuff, like Blu-ray and 3-D. 3-D is just another version of HD TV.