Forget 3DTV … buy an IPTV instead


opinion If there is one thing I am sick of, it is receiving proud press releases from TV stations and manufacturers about how they have created some tiny piece of obscure content in three dimensions.

Last week it was Sony’s turn to send their little morsel of joy into my inbox.

“Bringing the 3D entertainment revolution to the Australian music industry, Sony today announced that it will record and deliver its first music video in Australia in a stunning and immersive 3D experience,” the company breathlessly stated.

“Sony Music Entertainment’s Aussie electro-pop group, Rogue Traders, will be filmed using Sony’s professional 3D equipment performing their new single, Hearts Beat as One, which will be released as the rousing Qantas Socceroos team anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup (TM).”

Well whoop chook, I thought. Doesn’t that just fill your heart with soaring patriotic joy.

Just two days before that it was Samsung’s turn. The company was excited to tell me that one of its “3D videographers” would film a training session of the Essendon Football Club and the team’s subsequent match against the Western Bulldogs. Great, so we can see each player’s mug in its full 3D glory — ‘warts and all’.

Before that it was Jetstar, who announced its intention to broadcast a commercial in 3D, creating “television history” with this “most exciting and cutting-edge technology”.

This one almost had me. Wait, so I could write an article, about an advertisement, before that advertisement went to air, to make sure that everyone could make sure to watch it in 3D? I have to admit, I struggled to contain my enthusiasm.

Yes, everyone is excited about 3D TVs are the moment. Giant Japanese and Korean manufacturers are holding giant press conferences with dancing girls, the TV studios are upgrading their studios and are pumping out new content in 3D, and it’s all one big paroxysm of joy and happiness.

But I don’t buy it.

Firstly, the actual number of 3D televisions in Australia is mind-numbingly small. Days after the first Apple iPhone launched in Australia in mid-2008, I knew dozens of people with one, or who were planning to buy one.

You can buy a 3D television for only a few thousand dollars more than an iPhone. And yet Australian consumers remain apathetic to the devices so far. I don’t have any official statistics, but I don’t know a single person who has one -– unless it’s someone who has a job which involves selling them.

The amount of content available in 3D is also breathtakingly small. With the first trials only now beginning into filming mainstream content such as AFL and other sports matches in 3D, Australia is quite a ways away from the point where there will be enough material in 3D to justify keeping those awkward glasses on your loungeroom table on a permanent basis.

There are only so many times you can watch the Blu-ray disc of Avatar, after all.

However there is one revolution in Australian television that I am keeping quite a close eye on –- because unlike 3DTV, it’s one that is long overdue and will actually add a fair degree of value to the way that Australians consume television.

I speak, of course, of the incoming wave of TVs that support streaming video over the internet -– also known as IPTV.

It’s true that all of the major TV vendors are currently frantically importing 3D TVs into Australia. But simultaneously, they have started to import models that –- far more importantly -– support internet video streaming.

This means that -– finally -– many, many Australians may eventually be able to do away with the MediaCentre PC in their loungeroom which has for many years primarily served as the way they watch TV shows and films downloaded via BitTorrent.

Instead, eventually they may simply be able to use their TV to watch new TV shows directly streamed from providers such as the free to air TV networks themselves (normally in partnership with their online portals -– such as Yahoo7! and ninemsn), or payTV providers such as Foxtel, or even new entrants such as FetchTV.

The networks call it catch-up TV. I call it a revolution.

The eco-system for 3DTV clearly isn’t in place yet in Australia. But it is increasingly obvious that it is very close to being in place for IPTV.

You can see it in the recent limited partnerships that the TV networks have signed with the manufacturers, and the announcements of new content being streamed through Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 consoles. You can also see it in the way that Telstra’s BigPond Media arm is steadily ramping up its operations in the area.

The beautiful thing about IPTV is that it does not disrupt the current revenue model for Australia’s TV networks. They can still attach advertisements to the shows that they provide, and viewers will put up with them to avoid the risk of watching pirated material downloaded from the internet.

In fact, there is significant evidence to suggest that viewers will even pay money per TV episode (I would estimate something like $1 or $2 per episode) to stream the content without ads, ensuring a much more direct and reliable revenue stream for those TV networks brave enough to embrace it.

Several obstacles still lie in the way before IPTV can become a significant market force in Australia. Firstly, TV networks and manufacturers need to agree on open standards and joint agreements for content to reach the devices. The industry cannot move forward while only certain brands of TVs can stream Nine content, for argument’s sake, while Seven is locked to others. Consumers won’t wear it.

And of course the networks will have to willingly accept a model which provides much more accurate data to advertisers about how many people are actually watching their TV shows. You can precisely determine how many people watched Desperate Housewives on a Monday night if they’re all picking up individual streams from Seven’s datacentre.

Can the networks guarantee the same level of accuracy with the content being streamed across the air? Of course not.

Of course, I could be wrong, and in a year’s time we could all be watching everything in glorious 3D. But I rather think the opposite will be the case — we will still be chasing the perennial vision that IPTV has the potential to be able to deliver — being able to watch what we want, when we want it, and on our own terms.

Image credit: Michal Zacharzewski, royalty free


  1. Renai, I think you are pretty much spot on. The revolution for television is so much more about direct access to content. 3D television in its current form is really nothing more than a gimmick.

    TV’s enabled with streaming internet capability is really just the first step in the future of television. We’re beginning to see some next-gen TV’s becoming widget enabled, meaning there’s little need for TV distributors to go through third party companies like Foxtel (for example). Instead they can connect straight to the consumer.

    In many ways, the home television will be no different than an iPhone. The user-experience is self-determined by whichever media gateways (widgets) they wish to install on their TV’s.

    Content will be more freely available, while also being (theoretically) cheaper to access. That’s really the future of television.

    • Cheers Dan, yeah I completely agree. I foresee a future where the TV networks are increasingly cut out of the loop and the consumer benefits with better, more customised content when and how they want it. Television isn’t going away, it’s just becoming what people wanted all along. I am sure that 3DTV will have its place too … but not in the next few years ;)

  2. We already have IPTV! It’s called an iPad, and for $600 you can have it on your lap while watching TV and surf all you want. You can also use the remote app in conjunction with AppleTV to watch all your home movies, listen to your music, buy a movie or download a TV series. Hopefully Google can stir Apple into making AppleTV the innovation it should be – add a tuner and external HDD and you’ve got it. The Foxtel box is also pretty close to having all you need if they innovate.

    • I wouldn’t say that the iPad is true IPTV, Chris, it’s more of a portable device. Full IPTV requires a fair bit more grunt, both in the network and in the CPU than the iPad allows … we’re talking 1080p here and so on. I admit it’s a great device, but I see it more as a replacement for paper than anything else. It’s certainly not a replacement for TV.

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