While exhibitors beat up Fox over who will pay for 3-D glasses for Ice Age 3, and Fox beats up Real D for not approving lower priced glasses, 3000 screens are now 3-D capable around the world, and they’re not all Real D. Dolby now has a sizable number of 3-D installations. XpanD now touts some 500 screens using their shutter glasses, and MasterImage has a few hundred as well. Real D is well ahead of the competition, however. It not only has Regal, AMC, and Cinemark onboard for up to 4500 3-D screens total, this month they just signed CGR in France for another 200 screens to show that they can also win in Europe.
Real D’s success in penetrating the market, however, has not been matched to date with success in eliminating dual inventory 3-D content. Real D’s process introduces crosstalk between left and right eyes, which is corrected in the pre-distribution stage with a process called “ghost-busting.” Pressure has been on Real D for several years to eliminate the dual inventory problem, as other 3-D formats do not require it. The solution is finally to emerge later this year as a modification inside of capable digital cinema servers. So vanilla 3-D distributions can reign, and the server will perform the ghost-busting process in real time within the theatre. However, no one has reported as yet who will pay…always the difficult question.
Another big question is whether or not Real D faces a real competitor. Dolby has been hindered by several factors: its low light level capability, requiring two projectors to light up big screens, and expensive glasses that require washing and are subject to theft. Dolby partnered with Barco this past month to offer a dual-projector arrangement to address the big screen issue. Costly but no doubt effective. But Dolby didn’t come through with the rumored lower-cost 3-D glasses that some were hoping to see at ShoWest this year.
XpanD offers an expensive solution, too, but theirs doesn’t lend itself to two projectors. Shutter glasses are designed to work with single projectors showing sequential 3-D. Shutter glasses require left and right images to be shown one after the other, or sequentially, and not simultaneously. XpanD’s latest glasses offering are difficult to wear, however. They don’t sit on top of eyeglasses nicely. The new model was introduced without an RFID tag to allow it to be detected when surreptitiously leaving the building. On top of this, they are more expensive than Dolby’s.
MasterImage offers a process similar to that of Real D’s, but without the need for ghost busting. MasterImage, however, missed the mark when first introduced by requiring glasses that were different from those used by Real D. But they are learning. The company is said to be readying a newer version for market that is compatible with Real D’s glasses. The most distinguishing feature of MasterImage’s product is that their business model allows direct sales of the technology, as opposed to Real D’s perpetual licensing arrangement. Exhibitors greatly favor the ownership model offered by Master Image. But the company has its problems. It’s marketing and sales effort is thin, and it has yet to address the large screen issue, a factor which Real D has successfully pursued with its XL technology. By the time of this writing, MasterImage should be acquired by a new investor. If the right marketing and sales effort is built, and the large screen issue successfully tackled, MasterImage would seem most likely to succeed as a credible competitor for Real D. But that’s a big “if.”
A looming problem not addressed here is the disposal of Real D/MasterImage 3-D glasses. I’ll leave that topic for a future report.