The Next Format War: 3D TVs Coming 2010 - Will Avatar Be The Killer App?

No sooner has Blu-Ray seen off HD-DVD with it's knobbly knocking stick than another format war starts brewing in, quite literally, the R&D labs. According to a report in Video Business, Panasonic are looking to launch their first 3D-ready HD sets in what they hope will be an industry-wide standard, and will do so as soon as next year.

It's probably pertinent to tell you right away that while Panasonic aren't the only manufacturers working on a 3D standard, they are the ones in league with James Cameron. That alone has very possibly won them any upcoming format war before it even reaches the shop floor. Their system does indeed sound really brilliant, but so do the others, in their ways...

Ye olde 3D system used red and blue anaglyph glasses and is obviously already possible on home TVs of all kinds. When the most recent cinema hits have been repackaged for home consumers the 3D has been downgraded to work in this format. Or, rather, not quite work in this format because, frankly, the system is a bit of a dog. It doesn't work consistently and a very significant percentage of users report that they don't feel it works at all for them. I can't believe that Dreamworks dare pollute the public idea of 3D with their Monsters vs. Aliens ad at the Superbowl, and fear they may have confused a large number of viewers with their tacky specs and substandard TV 3D.

But did you know that the new, polarized lens system is already possible at home? There already are ways to line up players and sets and specs to get the same 3D effect you'd get at a screening of, say, Coraline. It just isn't standardized and until it is, there aren't going to many major releases.

Here's a brief run down of the three big players likely to duke it out in the coming months and years.

Panasonic's system uses a Plasma screen and the same specs that you get at a Real-D screening. I know this system works, because I've seen it in action.

Samsung's system has been around a while without much content. However, they also have a kind of conversion engine pending that will turn 2D into 3D on the fly – though this is likely to be very problematic and certainly won't be the optimum solution, not least because it takes control of the stereo elements out of the hands of the filmmakers.

Hyundai's system uses a polarising sheet over an LCD screen, which is likely to be the cheaper option and will also side step the various issues with Plasma screens (as well, of course, as the various benefits). This system is already on sale in Japan and will be running in Britain very soon with Sky TV planning to steadily ramp up their 3D output over the coming years until they can broadcast a very size-able chunk of the London 2012 Olympics in stereo-vision.

The closest thing to a set standard so far is in Panasonic's pocket. They already started coding Blu-Ray discs with left and right eye fields and pledge to release Avatar on a 3D disc next year. At the moment, the Panasonic demo discs require a pimped up player that can tear through twice as much data per second than normal. Hopefully this won't be the case with the release software as asking consumers to replace their newly minted BD decks is simply not going to fly.

Video Business have embedded a recent YouTube video in which Cameron briefly mentions collaborating with Panasonic on "high quality" 3D for the home. It seems to be software, not hardware, that wins format wars, but perversely, it's the price of hardware that determines how far a media standard will infiltrate the marketplace. While Avatar is very likely to win the war for Panasonic, this success will be in vain if they don't price-up for the Yous, Mes and Everyone we Knows out there.

If you have the right kind of 3D glasses, the Panasonic logo that James Cameron is conjuring out of thin air at the top of this post will fly around room and poke you in the eye.