60-inch projectors to compete with 40-inch LCDs next year

Despite the movie-theatre-in-your-front-room promise of DLP projectors, home cinema has been dominated by LCD TVs ever since the CRT lost its grip. But if 3D TV becomes the cry of the people from next year on, the current leading tech is going to have a problem on its hands. For the time being at least, LCD technology is just too slow for the effect to work, PDP is still too expensive, OLED far too young which leaves a chance for Texas Intrument's DLP projection technology to finally stake a claim.

"In the coming year, people thinking of buying a 40" LCD will fill find a 60" DLP rear projector just as affordable," TI's business development manager for DLP cinema, Ward Pitkin, told Pocket-lint. "3D is all about the immersive experience. A big screen size adds to that and will always," and, of course, Pitkin's right. A 3D effect will never jump outside of the frame of the screen on which you watch it. It'll be no good viewing something shot on IMAX 3D on a postage stamp, unless you really want to sit a foot away from your 22" display.

In fact, unlike most other technologies, there are already over 1 million 60-82" DLP 3D Ready home units out there in the shape of the Mitsubishi and Samsung rear projection sets. Unlike the front projectors, which have largely remained the preserve of custom installations, these devices are far more accessible to the average consumer, don't require a specially darkened room and are a hell of a lot easier to set up. Currently, just one tenth of TI's business is consumer focused with the rest coming from cinemas, education and the corporate world, but Pitkin expects this to shift.

"We are expecting to see a growing number of units at home. DLP is becoming more affordable and still remaining large screen. The cost of glasses will go down and the content is becoming available."

Perhaps the only challenge to 3D TV is indeed the glasses, as he freely admits. 3D via rear projection is only possible using alternate frame sequencing as opposed to the method of polarised light. The only downside of this is that the LCD shutter glasses required for the system to work are considerably more expensive than the relatively throw away polarised filter specs. They currently cost well in excess of $100 which begs all sorts of questions about having enough for the whole family or guests, how easily they might break or indeed whether the public wants to sit at home wearing them at all. But Pitkin counters:

"The glasses started off as geeky and fragile. Now they're sleek and robust. They've had to be robust because they've had to survive at the cinema."

There's also, of course, the eco angle that if they're not throw-away then it's more sound environmentally too and as far as his take on the price:

"It starts in the movie theatres. Being bought in high volumes at the cinema it will begin to drop the prices." Although it does seem unlikely in the short term that we'll see much of a reduction below the $100 mark.

Beyond the small(er) screen, it's the wave of 3D at the cinema that's also got TI rubbing its hands together in glee. Many of the movie house owners making the switch to 3D are choosing to go down the digital route. It's much more simple and more cost effective both at conversion and into the future with no need for complicated projectors and no distribution issues. What's more, these cinemas can then be used to screen live events such as sports games - a big plus with the World Cup just around the corner.

According to Pitkin, the conversion from film to digital projection costs no more than $100,000 and the figure the industry works with is that a single 3D screen will make back that money within two months of normal ticket sales. There are currently 13,000 digital cinemas in the world out of the very roughly approximated 100,000 in existence. 6,500 of these are 3D but with films like Avatar on the horizon, TI expects that proportion to rise to one third.

"We now have a big enough Star Wars-like event. Avatar is the talk of the industry. It's a new way to do 3D after all the years of cartoons with very few live action films. It's easy to watch and it's gorgeous."

Hollywood is set to earn much more through 3D at the cinema and over Blu-ray than they have for while and as Pitkin says "it's very important to them". So important that the studios are happy to pay for large chain movie theatres to convert to digital 3D. Not only does it give them a way to upscale their fight against piracy but it also cuts the vast numbers of dollars spent on processing and distributing the billions of feet of 35mm film each year.

Like many situations though, it's only those who don't need the freebies who are going to get it. It's not so much in the industry's interest to help out the smaller and independent cinemas that'll have to cough up for themselves. There's also the problem of cinemas in the third world which Pitkin describes as "a very deep issue." There are no 3D cinemas in India and studios will really have to trust that this format is much more difficult to pirate before helping out in a land where traditionally the box office has only benefited for a matter of days before the film is out of their control.

Back in the Western world, though, the future is rosy for TI. New developments are always a case of chicken and egg between technology and content for when they finally take off. 3D enabled DLP has been around for long enough and it finally looks as if the content is here.

"Hollywood is probably still learning how to do 3D but we're getting the idea and it's definitely coming. It's a financially proven business case at the cinema and what happens in the cinema today is a model for what happens in the home come tomorrow."

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