Panasonic will offer a complete “out of the box 3D solution” by mid-year, according to the company’s director of Consumer Electronic Group, Paul Reid, with a Blu-ray player, a series of 3D Viera plasma full HD televisions and eyeware, as well as 3D Blu-ray content with purchase. While Panasonic would not be drawn on the cost of components, GadgetGuy expects 3D TV sets to be $5000-6000, in line with current premium-priced models.

The announcement was made at an industry preview of the company’s forthcoming 3D products today and accompanied by an impressive demonstration of the immersive entertainment experience buyers can expect from 3D. A range of audition material – including animation, games, sports and nature programming – provided an exciting insight into how the cinema 3D experience can be authentically re-created in the home, and will certainly be compelling to many consumers with the credit facility to jump aboard.

Key to converting consumer excitement into purchases, however, will be the retail experience. A big flat panel running a 3D picture looks pretty blurry and cruddy, and then there’s the matter of keeping the glasses handy for anyone who wants to audition the system. To boot, 3D works best in a darkened room, and with bright shop lighting, the active shutter glasses essential to the Panasonic system create pronounced and distracting flicker. Panasonic says it is talking with retailers about how best to demonstrate 3D instore, with dedicated 3D booths a possibility.

Plasma best for 3D

Panasonic has some credibility in the 3D arena. It manufacturers the video cameras that create 3D content, owns mastering facilities for creating the 3D Bu-ray discs, and it builds 3D Blu-ray players and televisions in its own factories. “Panasonic is the only company to offer and end-to-end 3D solution, from capture to display,” says Reid.

An established champion of plasma, the company also asserts that the performance criteria which make the technology the best choice for big screen viewing – contrast, colour and speed – are even more relevant for 3D TV.

The plasma used in today’s demonstration was a 50 inch prototype of the company’s forthcoming VT20 series Viera Full HD 3D televisions, a set that to our reckoning demonstrated picture quality on par with the current benchmark, Pioneer’s ninth generation Kuro TV. Displayed alongside Panasonic’s best-rated G10 50 inch plasma, the prototype presented noticeably better contrast, deeper blacks and richer, brighter colours.

As a display for conventional video material, this VT20 series prototype signals a line-up of reference-level televisions from Panasonic that should prove attractive even to those not currently interested in TV. Plonk the money down and, should you feel the need to experiment with 3D, your set will be ready to take you there.

Panasonic 3D TV
The prototype Panasonic VT20 on the left shows deeper blacks and richer colours compared to the G10 on the right.

The set is also said to be 40 percent more power efficient than the 50 inch G10 reference model, which compensates somewhat for the extra energy required to drive a panel geared for 3D processing.

Panasonic says it will offer 3D in Viera plasmas over 50 inches, though did not specify what sizes above that. Its 103 inch plasma, however, will implement 3D only for commercial demonstrations. Reid also dismissed the near-term likelihood of 3D for its LCD line-up, which currently tops-out at 42 inches.

Frame Sequential Technology

Panasonic’s 3D system is based on active shutter technology Panasonic calls “Frame Sequential Technology”. This works by showing alternate frames (each at full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution) to the left and right eye at the rate of 100 times a second. The alternative images transmitted by the television are then filtered by glasses and combined in the viewer’s brain to have the appearance of depth. Because each eye is presented with an image at a frequency of 100Hz, Panasonic’ 3D plasma runs at 200Hz, a specification previously used only to describe the refresh rates of only the fastest of LCD televisions.

Panasonic 3D TV

The glasses are adjustable to fit the small noggins of children and for wear over prescription spectacles. They are powered by a CR2032 Lithium battery, which Panasonic claims is good for 100 hours of use. The glasses automatically power off after five minutes of not being used and Panasonic says at least one pair of glasses will be provided with each display. It’s a bit mean but, then Playstation has shipped with only one controller for years.

Additional glasses will be able to be purchased separately, should you want your friends and family to enjoy the 3D experience with you, but Panasonic would not provide an estimate on pricing. Similar glasses (from manufacturer Real3D) sell for more than $US100.

No 3D format war

While different manufacturers will implement 3D differently in their displays, the 3D Blu-ray standard established in December 2009 means there will be no 3D format war. So while brands will elect to implement 3D differently in their displays, all 3D hardware – regardless of brand – will support the content provided on a 3D Blu-ray disc. No standard has yet been set for Australian 3D broadcasts.

In addition, some manufacturers will market displays that convert 2D content into 3D. Panasonic says that, for quality reasons, it has not taken this path. This means that a  Panasonic 3D setup will need to be fed native 3D content; that is, content created in 3D. Reid expects there to be around “a couple of dozen” such 3D Blu-ray titles available by Christmas 2010.

That’s not a lot, but he’s is optimistic about the future of 3D, noting that, unlike Blu-ray, hardware makers and movie studios are currently  “developing 3D at a million miles an hour” and that this level of concord augers well for the technology. He also says Panasonic regards 3D as a significant new category, and is looking at its application for the company’s cameras, camcorders and projectors.

Sony and Samsung will be presenting their 2010 3D products to industry this week.