French firms are counting on sport and porn to lure viewers into buying 3D TV sets, but mass adoption of the new technology will come only when viewing comfort improves and prices fall, experts say.
Three-dimensional (3D) TV sets made by Panasonic, Sony and Samsung hit the French market in May and even if volumes have remained small, manufacturers are betting on a swift take-off.
Viewers reached out with their arms to the candies in the Haribo adverts in theatres. When boobs pop out of the screen it's the same, people reach out to touch them, said Philippe Gerard, co-founder of 3Dlized, which is working with adult-content producer Marc Dorcel on a new 3D offering.
Since James Cameron's highly profitable Avatar opened the door for 3D technology in cinemas, producers and broadcasters for the box have been rubbing their hands in glee, hoping to bank on life-like effects and the new sensations made possible.
Experts see football, rugby and boxing as well as other forms of entertainment such as opera, ballet and erotic shows leading the seduction campaign.
Other types of images like those shown in news bulletins are thought to be inappropriate for the new medium.
Unlike HD television, 3D doesn't mean a transformation of television in the short term. We're not going to tell the French: 'Tomorrow you have to get 3D or you won't have a telly', Gilles Maugars, deputy director for technologies at TF1, told Reuters.
Market research firm Gfk sees sales in France reaching 200,000 units by the end of the year, and estimates sales for May alone at about 1,000 sets. Manufacturers are more upbeat, aiming for half a million TVs sold this year.
Gfk sees French sales for all TVs growing by 18 percent this year to 8.7 million units.
Prices for a 3D box start from around 1,300 euros ($1,600), plus about 100 euros for an additional pair of goggles, a must-have for each viewer.
WORLD CUP KICK-START
With major sport events planned for 2010, and especially the football World Cup tournament, 3D unit sales should get a kick-start, said Ghislaine Le Rhun-Gautier, head of 3D at French telecom group Orange.
Orange, which has already broadcast 3D images from the French Open free of charge for its TV subscribers, is amongst five networks chosen by French commercial channel TF1 to air images from the World Cup, alongside Canal Sat, France Sat, Free
and Bouygues Telecom.
Experts say broadcasters will find it hard at first to make subscribers pay for this content, as they are still fumbling with visual and technical glitches.
Text, like that on a scoreboard, is still uncomfortable to read in 3D, said Vince Pizzica, head of strategy, technology and research at France's Technicolor.
Some shooting angles popular in 2D can be unsuitable in 3D, and cause headaches, nausea or even vomiting, experts say.
The technology is not yet mastered and quality is still disparate, said Joseph Guegan, VP for technology at pay-TV group Canal Plus, which plans to air 3D versions of only a few programs this year, including sport.
Citing these visual issues as well as unanswered questions about financial returns, experts are not betting on a channel that would broadcast in 3D 24 hours a day.
We still have to find the right recipe for TV, we've only got hypotheses today, says Gilles Maugars of broadcaster TF1.
Some telecom operators plan to launch video on demand (VOD) services as more 3D content emerges and technical difficulties get sorted out, while producers of erotic content are pushing for a monthly subscription model.
Marc Dorcel's 3D offering will be available for a 20-30 euros monthly subscription, Chief Executive Gregory Dorcel said, adding the group, which has revenues of around 20 million euros, invested 1.5-2 million euros in its 3D project.
(Writing by Michel Rose, Editing by Marcel Michelson and Michael Shields)