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DirecTV Brings 3D To A Television Near You

Over the last three years, there has been an increasing stream of 3D fare hitting the cineplexes.  As more and more viewers embrace the stereoscopic technology, the natural progression would be to introduce 3D to the home.  Although manufacturers have introduced 3D televisions to the market, programmers have been slow to embrace 3D for the home viewer.

But not DirecTV.  411 Publishing recently spoke with Steven Robert, Senior Vice President, New Media and Business Development at DirecTV to discuss the desire to embrace 3D TV.

411 Publishing:  3D technology is still emerging, and 3D televisions are quite new.  Why roll out now?

Steven Robert:  That’s a good question.  With DirecTV our mission has been and still is to provide the best video entertainment experience to our customers.  We started subsidizing HD production in 1997 and in 2007 we put a stake in the ground saying we’re going to come out with 100 channels, way before HD was taking off, because we felt as though we could provide that next step in the entertainment experience.  For the last few years, we’ve been looking at 3D and questioning what was the right time to step in.  A few things had to happen in order for us to do that:

1. The HD technology had to increase in the market place.

2.  Our software needed to be downloaded into the HD boxes, and we wanted to do that when there was scale in the marketplace.

3.  We needed to see a larger commitment from the CE (consumer electronics) manufacturers in terms of 3D manufacturing and technology.

4: And not in the least, watching what was going on in box office with 3D.

Those were the levers that we looked at.  It was about a year ago when all of these things are coming together in a perfect storm.  Although we knew we’d be leading the market place, we felt that all of those things together would provide an unbelievable experience for our customers.

411:  The DirecTV website has great basic information as to what to expect with the 3D experience.  Is there additional education for the DirecTV 3D subscribers regarding how to set contrast controls on their monitors, etc.?

SR:  We worked really closely from the beginning with the four large CE manufacturers: LG, Sony, Samsung, and Panasonic, to ensure that the customer experience was as easy as possible.  We put our software into those 3D television sets, so that when the subscriber goes from a 2D to 3D channel, transitions happen automatically and then back to 2D when you are off of the 3D channel.  We felt as though that was going to be a critical component to acceptance of 3D in general because as you said, not only does the consumer need to be educated about the content and the TVs needing to be purchase and the glasses needed to be worn, but what we wanted to make sure when they sat down in their living room to actually watch some content, it was as easy as possible.

411:  So the software actually helps calibrate the settings on your TV?

SR:  Yes, it changes the TV to the appropriate 3D format and the appropriate settings that need to be on the TV for 3D.

411:  What else does a DirecTV subscriber need to be set up with to receive the signal?

SR:  As a DirecTV customer you need to be an HD customer.  As long as you have HD, we downloaded the software that enables your set top box free of charge.  We provide the programming free as well to HD customers.

411:  There is a wealth of 3D movies and on ESPN there’s a lot of 3D sports content.  Are you starting to branch into original 3D content as well?

SR:  We are.  We are working closely with Panasonic and our programming partners to actually produce original content.  Most recently we produced music pieces featuring Peter Gabriel and Jane’s Addiction with Guitar Center, we did two episodes of Guitar Sessions in 3D, we worked with Turner on the NASCAR race they produced, and we work closely with Fox to produce the Baseball All-Star game.  So, we’re spending a lot of time, effort, and resources to put up the best content that is natively done.

411:  What about existing content?  What kind of programming can people see?

SR:  Currently you’ll see on On Demand the World Cup Matches we shot on 3D, you’ll see some of the documentary and IMAX type movies on VOD.  We are out in the market place, licensing the best 3D that has been produced, whether it’s film from one of the studios, or its documentary form.  You’ll see a lot of music as well.

411:  Regarding software; as developments in 3D and 3D filmmaking occur, is there a team reworking and upgrading the DirecTV 3D software?

SR:  As with all of our technologies, we go through multiple improvements and upgrades during the year. We never stop innovating here, so that will continue well into the future with 3D.

411:  3D event programming projected live in movie theaters (as in Super Bowl) has been very popular.  Do you foresee yourself becoming involved in programming like that?

SR:  I think that 3D, whether in the home or in the theater, will certainly be event driven.  If we are producing the event, we’ll take a look at those situations on a case by case basis.  But I think to expose people to 3D whether its sports or music or some other type of event is only going to benefit the entire community.  The more that people see it and learn that it’s a totally different type of viewing entertainment experience, the better.  For those people that go into the theater and love 3D movies, now to have that capability in your home, that’s a pretty special thing.

411:  What do you see in the short range future?  Do you see homes filled with 3D television?

SR:  I see that as people need to purchase television sets it’s not too different from what happened with HD.  Currently it’s difficult if not impossible to go into a retailer and by an SD set.  Most of the sets now are being sold are HD sets.  I suspect, over the next three to five years, a similar thing will happen with 3D.  The first 3D television sets had a price point of $2,500 and those will become more affordable over time.  I think over the next 18-36 months, 3D production will still be somewhat heavily event driven by sports and music, but 3D content is going to grow.

411:  How does it feel to be a front runner?

SR:  It’s a great position.  I think at DirecTV we really enjoy being in this position for our customer’s sake.  We like pushing the envelop, we like being first.  We like providing our customers, whether that’s the first customer that buys the first 3D set or the ten millionth customer, the best entertainment experience in the home.  3D provided us the opportunity to do that and continue on with what we started with HD and even our SD programming.

To learn more about DirecTV 3D, please visit their website: