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January 6, 2011

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3D television comes to town

TWO million pairs of 3D TV glasses will be given out in Shanghai this spring as the 3D fad expands, but some experts warn it's just that, a fad, and say worthwhile programming comes first. Xu Wei changes the channel.

The wave of the future, or perhaps the latest fad, seems to be 3D, and now three-dimensional television is making its way into Chinese living rooms.

Some call this the beginning of China's 3D revolution and say there's vast potential for both TV and film. But some media experts warn against going overboard with faddish 3D TV, saying most TV fare wouldn't be enhanced. Also, it costs three to five times as much money, effort and time to produce a 3D production than a traditional 2D one. Thus, making it profitable is a major challenge.

This spring, International Channel Shanghai (ICS) will collaborate with Shanghai 3D Communication Co Ltd, the content supplier, on a 3D stereoscopic TV program, the first of its kind in China. It will air sometime after the Spring Festival next month; more than 10, 25-minute episodes are planned.

The program will feature private car travel around China, lifestyle and culture.

More than 2 million pairs of 3D glasses will be handed out around the city.

The clarity and quality of the 3D images will make viewing an immersive experience, and it will be interactive, but it's still experimental.

The 3D TV program is ICS' second effort to introduce 3D television. Last year the channel showed imported "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert," which was shot using seven "Fusion 3D" cameras with the latest vision technology, and 3D post-production technology.

ICS also plans to air a 3D documentary series about the Shanghai World Expo during Spring Festival next month.

BesTV, which offers interactive TV, mobile and video services in China, plans regular 3D broadcast of sports events, concerts and entertainment shows starting from 2012.

The Chinese mainland has around 2,100 3D cinema screens, representing nearly one-third of the total and second in number only to the United States, which has around 2,500.

The 3D sci-fi sensation "Avatar" was hugely popular in China. However, China's own 3D film industry is in its infancy.

Only one film was produced last year, director Ah Gan's fantasy "Don Quixote."

And 3D TV is still very much experimental.

Although the 25 matches of last year's FIFA World Cup were produced in 3D, most people could only watch live 3D broadcasts in cinemas.

"The 3D outdoor advertising LED screens are not rare in the city, but it will take three to five years to popularize 3D TV technology and all 2D production equipment will have to be upgraded," Li Zhuangmiao, deputy director of the ICS Business and Development Department, says.

But no doubt about it, China is witnessing the beginning of the 3D revolution, according to Kent Walwin, a United Kingdom media expert.

"Never before has there been such an opportunity to mix the skills and technology that exist in China and Europe," Walwin says at an international forum in Shanghai last month on digital media technology and development. "This new millennium will allow 3D to sit alongside 2D as a proper visual experience, in the same way that color film sat alongside black and white film, and silent films sat alongside the talkies."

Only a few channels worldwide are airing 3D content, including ESPN 3D and Discovery 3D net, both sponsored by Sony.

Huang Hong, technical director of Shanghai 3D Communication Co Ltd, predicts that 2011 will be a turning point in popularization of 3D TV productions in China. His company is a major 3D content supplier to domestic TV channels and is producing the content for the ICS 3D show this spring.

The State Administration of Radio Film and Television has approved the trial launch this year of new dedicated 3D channels in Tianjin Municipality and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

They will broadcast news, animation, entertainment and live events all day.

So far, fewer than 10 3D camcorders from Sony and Panasonic have been sold in Shanghai, according to Huang. Few people in the domestic TV and film industry have the front-end expertise and knowledge of 3D filming and post-production.

Huang says that this year Shanghai 3D Communication Co will open a one-month 3D TV and film making course for both veteran TV producers and newcomers.

"Just like high-definition programming, 3D TV will be an inevitable trend," says Jeff Chen, an official from BesTV. "The 3D service is also expected to cooperate in many regards with the Internet and other new media platforms. This collaboration will increase our competitiveness."

Experts say that development of 3D should not focus only on one service or hardware, such as TV sets, DVD players and cameras, but should emphasize a mature industrial chain, with writers, actors, directors and all the technicians, from production and post-production to distribution and marketing.

In addition to copyright sales and advertising, BesTV and the 3D channels are expected to charge some TV viewing fees.

"In fact, technology is not the main issue holding back widespread household broadcast of 3D TV," Huang points out. "The bane of 3D TV viewing as of now is the lack of really interesting and diversified content that deserve to be shown in 3D."

Wang Yin, a freelancer and father of a 5-year-old girl, echoes the view and suggests 3D may just be a trick of TV stations to increase viewership and advertising revenues.

"I don't expect 3D technology to make much difference if the program itself is boring and insipid," Wang says. "Originality is what is required."

Veteran TV producer and media expert Li Tian agrees, saying it's not necessary to convert 2D productions to 3D, just to catch attention. He says he was somewhat disappointed in the 3D fantasy movie "Alice In Wonderland," noting that the 3D technology creates a thrilling visual impact. He suggests a 2D film would be more enchanting and like an oil painting.

It's excessive to remaster a romantic comedy or a family drama into 3D, Li says.

"The 3D technology can add to the pleasure, but it's never a must. It's not wise to put the cart before the horse. Remember, content is always king."

Doctors point out long time of 3D experience may cause health problems, such as dizziness, nausea, headaches and myopia.

Eye doctors suggest that viewers limit the 3D experience to one hour at a time, with breaks in between.

"People may experience eye strain, eye fatigue and nausea if they watch 3D programs or playing stereoscopic 3D games on 3D TVs for a long time," says Wang Fang, an eye expert from Shanghai No. 10 People's Hospital. "Children should be more careful as their vision is still developing."


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