Feature: Samsung looking to lead in home 3D

Samsung has gotten to market first with its 3D sets.

Samsung has gotten to market first with its 3D sets.

Having become the biggest TV manufacturer in Ireland Samsung’s country manager says they hope to stay on the cutting edge in the months ahead, starting with its launch of 3D-capable sets in April.

3D video is not a new concept. Most people over 20 years of age would have rose – and blue – tinted memories of the Hallowe’en specials and novelty Westerns shown on TV and in cinema over the years. Despite this negative association modern 3D has flourished on the big screen in the past year with massive hits like Avatar and is now about to invade the living room, with Samsung leading the charge and trying to stake a claim in the burgeoning market segment.

“We are the first manufacturer to mass-produce 3D TV and you will physically see that in the Irish market in April so we will be first to market on this,” said Kevin Maguire, country manager for Samsung Ireland. “Getting to market first is critical to us from a brand point of view and for brand positioning.”

Samsung is the first to retail 3D TVs in Ireland – and many other countries – with the recent arrival of its new sets in recent weeks but it is not the only manufacturer hoping to make its mark in the area. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, a reliable weather vane for the technology trends of the year ahead, 3D was everywhere with countless companies trying to show that they were doing it best.

While these manufacturers will try to set themselves apart from the competition the only important difference between their sets will be whether they use ‘active’ or ‘passive’ panels and lenses, with the choice made determining overall cost and picture quality.

Active 3D refers to a screen that syncs electronically with the lenses worn by the user, which are battery powered and rechargeable. This allows the lenses to shutter rapidly in time with the display to give a more impressive 3D effect – however it does require investment in expensive glasses. Passive 3D, on the other hand, uses simple tinted lenses with the screen itself doing all the work. The quality of the 3D image may not be as good as a result but it does mean lenses are cheap and easily replaced.

“We are using active panels… you really have to see it in person to understand just how good it looks and how well it works,” said Mr Maguire.

Once on sale customers should be able to pick up a 40” Samsung 3D LED TV for €1999, while the same sized 3D LCD TV will cost €1299. The active lenses will add to this cost, coming in at around €100 each though the company is planning on bundling them with Blu Ray players to encourage adoption.

Cost will obviously be a factor for many buyers at first but for committed early adopters it will not; for them what matters is what they can do with the technology once they buy it. But with no 3D content available on any channel in Ireland at the moment, how can Samsung convince people to invest in something they cannot use yet?

“We are offering customers a complete suite of 3D products including home theatre systems and Blu Ray players that will allow them to watch 3D movies they have bought,” said Mr. Maguire, who also pointed to the move by sports broadcasters to 3D programming. “However our sales projections for the year would also be based on some decent content coming across like Sky launching a 3D channel this year and ESPN broadcasting World Cup matches in 3D as they have talked about.”

Mr Maguire sees sport being a significant driver in 3D adoption, along with movies and nature programming made by the likes of National Geographic. He does accept, however, that not all genres and programmes would benefit from the technology and it will be more specific in its use.

But any talk of 3D content on TV ignores the fact that the last major content jump to HD is still on-going, particularly in Ireland where no indigenous broadcasters have made the move to higher definition content.

“In terms of the digital signal being rolled out that’s very disappointing for everyone in the country as places in the UK have already had digital switch-over take place,” he said. “Northern Ireland will be completely switched over next year I think and no-body here knows when we will make the switch which is very frustrating.

“If you’re selling this high-quality hardware obviously you need the software to drive it.”

Another potential problem the company faces is the decision to launch 3D so soon after the arrival of LED to Ireland. With the aforementioned early adopters being the target market in both cases, is there a chance the company is angering its customers by making their recent purchases seem old-hat so quickly?

“I genuinely don’t feel that we upset or annoy any customers [by launching new products so fast],” said Mr Maguire, who said the company has been quick to retro-fit features to sets wherever possible. “For example many people bought sets without internet on TV but the beautiful thing is now they can add the function by buying a Blu Ray player, so we do try to add these features on afterwards where possible.”

Of course it is not just 3D that the company is focusing on in its attempts to maintain a lead over its rivals and it still has big plans for the basic categories of LCD and Plasma TV, even if they do seem decidedly old fashioned when compared to the latest technology on offer.

“There’s still quite a bit to go [in the transition from CRT to flat-screen],” said Mr Maguire. “I saw some stats from the UK market last week where there’s still something like 64% of households with CRT.

“I was quite taken a back by that figure, it seemed quite high to me, but there are definitely still a lot of households out there with CRTs and that transition to flat-screen has been a huge driver for LCD and Plasma over the years.”

This feature was originally written for Business & Finance magazine and appeared in its April issue.

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