First 3-D TV Channels from DirecTV Available in June

In June, DirecTV will become the first pay-TV provider to offer 3-D channels compatible with the new 3-D TVs just now arriving in stores across the country.

TechNewsDaily caught up with Steven Roberts, senior vice president at DirecTV to talk about 3-D TV in the home, including the equipment, the content and the technology choices consumers will face.

DirecTV will initially roll out three 3-D channels in June, with several more to be introduced in the months following. Roberts said the company has been planning for this moment for a long time.

"We saw this coming several years ago and we were able to build out the 3-D expertise along with [high definition],” he said. "When the consumer electronics companies caught up, all we had to do was push a button."

The June offering will include a 24/7 pay-per-view channel, a free general entertainment channel, and a video-on-demand channel, similar to its 2-D on-demand channel.

DirecTV has partnered with Panasonic, which will be one of the first companies to sell 3-D capable TV sets. Panasonic will deliver its first 3-D TVs to retailers this Wednesday. Best Buy is ready with demonstration displays for Panasonic's 3-D TVs and compatible Blu-ray players in 250 locations.

How will DirecTV and Panasonic work together?

DirecTV and Panasonic will team up on both the marketing of the new 3-D channels and on the production of content for the channels, Roberts said.

"As an industry, we realize we're going to need to seed the marketplace with as much 3-D content as possible, so we're working closely with Panasonic to produce 3-D content," Roberts told TechNewsDaily. "They'll be offering up 3-D equipment like cameras, as well as funds for producing the content itself."

The 3-D channels produced by DirecTV and Panasonic will display the Panasonic logo, but will be viewable on any 3-D TV set, Roberts added.

"In fact, we have deals with Samsung, LG and Sony as well as Panasonic to put our software into their television sets, so it's a seamless transition from 2D to 3-D," Roberts said. "Once you get to our 3-D channel, the TV will automatically transition itself into the 3-D mode and then back to 2D if you go back onto a 2D channel."

Without the built-in software, viewers would have to go through the time-consuming task of using their remote control to find the 3-D and 2-D settings on their television set and then make the appropriate adjustments.

When high definition content first became available, it required expensive equipment and an additional, substantial fee. Roberts said he hopes to make 3-D content more affordable from the very beginning.

"No, there will not be an extra hardware charge. Any type of bundling of content, we haven't really figured out yet," Roberts said. "We're trying to make it as affordable as possible, so that as many people can enjoy the experience as possible."

No Burger King glasses

It's possible to view 3-D content on a standard television set, as demonstrated at last year's Super Bowl, when thousands of people picked up paper glasses from Burger King to watch the 3-D ads. This is anaglyphic technology using glasses with red and blue glasses, while the new 3-D TVs will use more sophisticated technology for better displays.

The new 3-D technology can be passive or active. Roberts likes both. He explained that the passive technology uses the same glasses you would get in the movie theater, and that more of the technology for passive is built into the TV set. Active technology uses shuttered glasses, which have a battery in them. More of the technology is built into the active glasses rather than into the TV, which makes them more expensive, but also may be more comfortable for some viewers.

"As an experience, both are great. We support both of them on our set top boxes," Roberts said. "Samsung, Sony and Panasonic are marketing the active glasses and LG is in the market with passive glasses, but may be coming out with active pairs as well."

Roberts believes 3-D TVs will be bundled with a certain number of glasses. Samsung will offer a 3-D starter package with the purchase of a 3-D TV and 3-D Blu-ray player that includes two pairs of active glasses and the 3-D version of Monsters & Aliens.

3-D content production

DirecTV is working with Fox to produce a 3-D version of the Major League Baseball All-Star game in August, and will offer a wide range of sporting events throughout the second half of the year. Roberts was enthusiastic about his plans for 3-D concerts and documentaries. "The nature types of films are unbelievable in 3-D, so you'll be seeing that type of content as well."

DirecTV is also working with AEG/AEG Digital Media, CBS, Fox Sports/FSN, Golden Boy Promotions, HDNet, MTV, NBC Universal and Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., to develop additional 3-D programming for this year and next, Roberts said.

While few 3-D movies are slated for home release in 2010, that number will increase in 2011 after sure-to-be 3-D blockbusters like "Toy Story 3" in June and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" in November have finished their theater runs. However, it's still unclear how long it will take for movies to come to DirecTV.

"We'll follow the same window we have with traditional 2D movies," he said. "It's really up to the studios, but you can expect those 3-D theatrical releases to be on our pay-per-view, no doubt."

Leslie Meredith
Leslie Meredith is a contributor to Live Science. She has a bachelor's degree from UCLA in psychology and has directed tourism and ski publications for the Salt Lake Visitor & Convention Bureau and managed promotions and events for Sunset Magazine.