Sensio Announces 4K 3D TV Distribution Format

On January 5thSensio  (Montreal, Québec, Canada) announced a new 3D format at CES 2015 for streaming 3D content to UHD televisions called the Sensio 3D/4K format. According to the company, this format is compatible with all video compression codecs including HEVC.

The format makes it possible to distribute 3D HD content without any stereoscopic compression loss, achieving an image quality that is superior to every spatial compression format, including the older award-winning Sensio Hi-Fi 3D technology. And, of course, much better than top/bottom or left/right 3D formats.

Mark Twain is reported to have said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”. Sensio feels the same way about 3D television.  In order to get some insight into this new 3D format, I listened to the Sensio Q2 conference call on January 23rd led by Nicholas Routhier, president of Sensio. (Sensio’s Q2 ended on November 30, 2014.)  You can listen to a recorded version of this conference call through February 6th  by dialing 1-800-585-8367 or 1-416-621-4642, reservation number 69373079#.

According to Routhier, while 3D TV has reached a low ebb in North America, it is doing well in the rest of the world, especially Europe and China. In general, he said, 3D TV content is not commonly made originally for TV. Instead, it is the home version of theatrical content, and shown on home theater TVs. He said that while the buzz on theatrical 3D has faded, theatrical 3D itself has not faded and it still generates a significant portion of the revenue for movies released in 3D. Nor does he expect 3D cinema content to go away in the future. For example, he said Marvell recently announced that its planned schedule of 11 movies going forward will all be made in 3D.

One reason why 3D TV fared poorly in the US and Canada, according to the Routhier, is the set manufacturers in North America focused on sets with active glasses. Not only are these glasses expensive, heavy and difficult to use, they are almost impossible to demonstrate in retail settings. No one buys a 3D TV without first having it demonstrated to him. In Europe and China, the emphasis has been on televisions with passive glasses, which are cheap, lightweight, comfortable to wear and identical to the passive glasses viewers are accustomed to in most theatrical settings. The low-cost, disposable nature of these passive glasses makes it much easier to demonstrate 3D TV in a retail setting.

Passive glasses are coming to the US, however. At CES 2015, the massive 3D videowall that wowed everybody in the LG booth used TVs with passive glasses. In addition, all of the newly introduced LG 4K TVs with 3D capability will use passive glasses.

One of the arguments against passive glasses and in favor of active glasses is that passive glasses halve the vertical resolution of the image shown to the viewer. This is where 4K TVs and the 3D/4K format become important. This allows the use of 3D TVs with passive glasses where each eye will get a full 1080p HD resolution.

3DGo logoIn the past, LG has rented 3D movies through the LG store. According to Routhier, LG will discontinue this and an app for Sensio’s 3D home theater distribution subsidiary 3DGo will be placed on new LG 3D TVs. Currently there are about 14K subscribers to 3DGo, mostly from users with Visio TVs but a few with Panasonic TVs. Routhier hopes this will increase to about 50,000 by the end of 2015 as LG TV viewers begin to download 3D content.

I have always agreed with one of Routhier’s key premises: broadcast 3D TV content was pretty much doomed to failure from the beginning for a variety of reasons, especially including high production costs, low viewership and bandwidth restrictions.  3D movies on home theater systems have none of these restrictions – the content already exists, the bandwidth of Blu-ray discs or downloads can be a non-issue and the small number of viewers are all secondary factors. Even 50K viewers in the North American market is a drop in the total TV viewership bucket but if they are each willing to pay $20, that’s $1 Million. While that’s not a huge figure to a big studio, it can still be a nice addition to income with little cost other than mastering a 3D version of a Blu-ray disc. – Matthew Brennesholtz