Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sony 3D Promos At-Home 3D: At Expense of Theater Experience?

“I refuse to say the sky is falling,” declared Sony chairman Amy Pascal, when I asked her about the grim summer box office so far. She was observing the Sony 3D show-and-tell Wednesday on the Sony lot. Clearly, not only is the studio earmarking a number of 3D features for 2010 and beyond—including Resident Evil Afterlife in 2011 and Spider-Man 4 and Men in Black III for 2012 (Will Smith putting on his shades takes on a new meaning), but the entire corporation is moving aggressively into the 3D space both at home (PS3, 3D games, Bravia HD 3D televisions, Blu-Ray 3D devices) and in theaters (see videos below and Sony News).

Sony America CEO Sir Howard Stringer hosted the event on the old MGM studio’s Stage 8, as the press corps sat on white vinyl sofas and donned their 3-D glasses. “Creation, distribution and display,” are Sony’s catch-words as they hawk their content, games, and stereoscopic equipment. “We’re blazing a trail in every part of the 3D universe,” said Stringer, who also praised Sony’s 3D technology center which aims to educate and inform filmmakers on the best use of 3D tools. Stringer stressed that Sony was pushing “high quality,” “immersive” 3D. Not that “jarring,” “mediocre” after-the-fact stuff. (They did the honors on Alice in Wonderland.) Sony plans to spend $100 million marketing this 3D effort, with 6000 retail displays reaching 200,000 consumers; they will also hit social media. A 3D Playstation games and sports spot featuring Peyton Manning and Justin Timberlake will air during World Cup matches.

And Sony Imageworks has been playing in the digital visual effects playpen for some time, from Bob Zemeckis’s Polar Express to Monster House. On the hardware side, Sony cameras and 4K projectors are shooting and displaying 3D images. The SXRD 4K projector is on 2000 screens now in North America; they eventually expect 11,000. As HD TVs continue rolling out, the Bravia 3D TV will be available in Sony Style stores and online for $2000 for a 40-inch and $3000 for a 60 inch set. It includes a transmitter and two pairs of glasses.

While it’s no surprise that Sony is selling Bravia 3D televisions (will people want to wear the active shutter glasses?). immersive 3D games for the PlayStation 3 or making more 3D movies, I was blown away by the quality of the sports imagery they’re going to show on ESPN 3D, which launches with the World Cup Mexico South Africa soccer match on Friday at 6:30 AM PT, which thanks to ATT, Direct TV and Comcast will have 40 million available subscribers at launch.

While skateboarding, basketball and baseball looked great, I was especially taken with the golf—you felt like you were there on the green, with birds singing, the hushed crowd, Phil Mikkelson rolling his hole in one, right atcha. Sony also announced Discovery Channel CEO Tom Cosgrove as new president and CEO of the new 3D Channel combine from Discovery, Sony and IMAX, the first 24/7 3D channel. Sure enough, they showed us stunning Discovery 3D ocean shots of eels swimming into the frame, schools of fish, floating sea horses, leaping dolphins and close-up shark snouts. The car racing and concert footage was also impressive.

And Sony Pictures Chairman Michael Lynton announced that animated Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs will be the studio’s first 3D Blu-Ray, released June 22. Lynton expects 30 or more 3D pics industrywide in 2011 to be shown on some 14,000 screens—and more like 23,000 screens by 2012. Sony promises that what PS3 did for Blu-Ray, it will now do for 3D, because PS3 users are early adopters and voracious technophiles. Folks who buy the Bravia 3D TV will get vouchers for stereoscopic 3D games.

As guys settled into sofas on adjoining Stage 7 to try out 3D games, it hit me that this is the last thing the movie business needs: immersive 3D games and home entertainment on fancy screens on top of all the other competition for viewer attention. Big 3D event movies were keeping Hollywood rolling in green—and they’re all banking on more 3D. The Sony demo made me want to go home to my PS3: it streams music, plays Blu-Rays, downloads TV and movies (via Netflix streaming), and will now play 20 stereoscopic games such as Super Stardust—not to mention 3D Motion Control for the Playstation Move. No question Sony will own the 3D space. But are pokey old movie theaters going to be left behind? - Anne Thompson

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