No-one's saying 3D won't be coming to Blu-ray Disc in a big way, eventually. But will it be good enough keep us watching?

Rather as Hollywood clung to novelties in the cinemas – 3D, Sensurround, perfumes pumped into theatres and even tingling electrical charges through the seats – in an effort to hold back the tide of TV in the 1950s and 1960s, so it's seeing the latest generation of 3D movies, such as Bolt (above), bringing back audiences unimpressed with lacklustre conventional releases.

But the cinema is only part of the equation: if the studios are going to make 3D fly as a home cinema medium, they've got to find ways of making the sofa experience as good as the one in the tip-up seats. And current 'red and cyan' anaglyph systems just aren't going to do it.

That was the message from a session at the Digital Hollywood industry heads-together in Santa Monica, California, last week. Just making DVDs and Blu-ray Discs 3D isn't enough: most are downgraded from the superior cinema formats to anaglyph, first used in cinemas decades ago, and suffer as a result.

Standards are needed
What's more, although it's possible to present the latest advanced 3D systems and movies at home right now, the lack of a unifying standard for hardware and software is going to confuse consumers, and may explain why the 'one size fits all' anaglyph system is favoured.

For the studios, there's big money at stake: 3D movies such as Bolt and Monsters vs Aliens (above) pull in more ticket revenue than their standard 'flat' versions. But the 3D movies cost more to make – up to $20m on one of these CGI extravaganzas – and that extra investment needs to show benefits in the DVD/BD revenue, too.

After all, it's unusual for a movie to make its money back in the cinemas: the studios depend on disc sales and paid-foir downloads to ensure a return.

And with Hollywood luminaries such as Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of the founders of DreamWorks SKG, and now CEO of spin-off company DreamWorks Animation, warning that it may be at least five years before 3D takes any hold in the home. the studios are looking at ways to accelerate the technology.

Katzenberg suggested that consumers who've just bought HDTVs will take a lot of persuading to buy again in order to get 3D, so there are companies working on ways of bringing advanced 3D TV to existing sets. 3D production company Kerner New York, a spin off from Lucasfilm's Industrial Light and Magic, is one of these.

Speaking at Digital Hollywood, Kerner CEO Neal Weinstock told trade journal Video Business that the company is working on a device to bridge the gap between anagyph and the current state of the art cinema 3D systems. "“Let’s say anaglyph is at a one and [state-of-the-art theatrical] is at a 10, then this device can allow TVs to show 3D at a level five,” he said, but declined to say when the device would come to market.

No 3D Blu-ray Discs before 2011
And industry analysis company Futuresource Consulting says it will be at least 2011 before commercial 3D Blu-ray Disc releases will hit the shops, although it's expected TV manufacturers will continue to push 3D-ready TVs in the meantime.

Futuresource expects that by 2012 about 10% of US households will have TVs able to show 3D programming, but comments that in order for the potential to be realised, standards will need to be formalised.

Profitability modelling for the permeation phase
And I think I just about understand this prediction: “Our probability modeling shows the permeation phase will kick in from 2011, where, among other initiatives, we’ll see new 3D movie releases on Blu-ray, remasters of classic blockbusters like Star Wars, The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings,” said Jim Bottoms, managing director of corporate development at Futuresource.

“By 2012, more than 10% of U.S. and Japanese homes will be 3D-enabled, and Western Europe won’t be too far behind with 6% household penetration. Moving forward, a new generation of videogame consoles will begin to emerge, fully embracing 3D technologies.”

Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.