It's not just the TV makers that have a vested interest in pushing video's transformation to 3D TV and beyond. Companies that supply and enable the technology are just as eager to see the next generation of video take hold as the TV makers looking to sell you another big screen.
"Video is today's voice-on-an-IP network," said John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, the largest supplier in the world of IP networking equipment.
I spoke to Chambers this week as he visited the Meadowlands sports stadium outside of New York City, which is the latest sports arena to use Cisco's cutting edge Internet Protocol, or IP technology, to bring more video and interactivity to fans in the stadium.
Chambers elaborated on his comment to explain that just as voice technology migrated from a standalone service to one that has become just another application filling an all IP-network, video is moving in the same direction. Video is quickly becoming the killer app of all IP networks, including the Internet itself, Chambers said. With each new evolution of TV, the applications consume more network resources. And this feeds Cisco's business, as well as other businesses. Communications infrastructure provider Verizon Communications, is also dependent on its customers' constant need to increase bandwidth.
In a technology industry addicted to perpetual upgrade cycles, as the PC market has been for two decades, infrastructure and equipment companies are looking to video as the next big killer app to drive demand for faster networks and services.
It's easy to see why. Regular standard definition television broadcasts consume more bandwidth capacity than other types of traffic, like audio or text. High-definition video eats up even more. And it would likely take at least two full high-definition channels to broadcast live just one sports game in 3D.
As a result, Internet traffic is expected to grow more than fourfold by 2014, and video will account for much of that growth, according to Cisco's annual Visual Networking Index Forecast. Cisco predicts that in the next four years, more than 90 percent of all content traversing the Net will be some form of video, whether it's peer-to-peer or streamed from servers.
But this enormous growth is not just coming from people watching more YouTube or Hulu on their laptops; companies like Cisco and Verizon see bandwidth intensive 3D TV as the next wave of video that will drive further traffic growth and ultimately require more equipment from Cisco and faster speed services from Verizon to keep up with demand.
Cisco predicts that high-definition TV and 3D TV content will increase 13 times between 2009 and 2014. In total, HDTV and 3D video will account for 42 percent of the video on the Internet by 2014.
"There is no question in my mind that 3D is the next thing to happen in video," Chambers said. "It's the next logical evolution of the technology."
Consumer services are already gearing up to offer 3D TV broadcasts and movies. Comcast, DirecTV, and Verizon Fios TV are among the paid TV services that will be offering some kind of 3D TV content in the next year. Just as it was with HD content, sports will be among the first broadcasts to go 3D. Comcast has already shown the Masters Golf Tournament in 3D. Verizon plans to show a preseason NFL game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots next month on its Fios TV service. And DirecTV has struck a deal with ESPN, which has already begun shooting sports in 3D.
Cisco and Verizon executives say that the 3D TV revolution won't stop with consumer services. They also expect the technology to make its way into businesses. Chambers wouldn't specify when, but he said the company's telepresence video conferencing service, which today uses high-definition video, will eventually be 3D-enabled.
Whether executives will sit around Cisco telepresence conference rooms with 3D video glasses is unknown. Chambers seemed confident that the technology would eventually get to a point where glasses are unnecessary. Toshiba is already talking about making a glasses-free 3D TVs for the Japanese market.
Beyond 3D video, Chambers sees holographic technology as being the next truly big advancement in video technology.
"3D will make things more lifelike, " he said. "But I think in 10 years we'll be seeing holograms used. Not only can this be used to enhance business communications, but imagine the implications for certain vertical businesses like medicine."
Verizon Communications Chief Information Officer Shaygan Kheradpir said his company is already working with researchers to bring holographic technologies into homes and small businesses. And the medical industry is one place where he sees a particularly good fit for holograms.
Kheradpir wouldn't offer specifics of what Verizon is working on with its research partners, but he said that it has been playing around with sending holographic images of someone's head across its Fios fiber-optic network.
He said this could be a very useful application for doctors and other medical professionals.
"A hologram of a patient can be beamed right to the home of the doctor, who could rotate the image and make a diagnosis," he said.
Kheradpir said his father was an ear, nose, and throat doctor, who spent most of his time running back and forth to the hospital to see patients.
"Just think of how much more time he would have been able to spend with his family if he had this technology," he said. "He would not have had to go into the ER as often as he did. Most times all he needed to do was ask someone to open his mouth and say 'ah.'"
Verizon recently announced that it had field tested the first ever 1Gbps link to a business using Verizon's existing Fios infrastructure. Kheradpir, who lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, has also been testing the 1Gbps service in his home. On a recent tour of his home to show off new Fios TV services and features, he said that holography is the type of application that would need such high speed connections.
True holography is a three-dimensional technology that uses several cameras to record an image and render the image so that it changes position and orientation just like the actual object being recorded.
Holography has been demonstrated by several companies. Telstra, the Australian phone company, used a hologram a couple of years ago to beam its chief technology officer from Melbourne to a business meeting about 460 miles away in Adelaide. Cisco has also done holography demonstrations.
For the most part, holography is still too expensive for most companies to deploy commercially.
Kheradpir said this will eventually change as technology matures and as very high-speed broadband services, such as Fios, get to more consumers. He admitted that outfitting homes with cameras to send and receive holograms will take years. But he said that it's still critical to get the consumer network in place that can handle such heavy loads.
"You need a consumerized high-speed network in place to deliver specialized services like holography," he said. "It's all about scale. And without scaling the infrastructure, it's too expensive to offer something like this."
For now, the highest speed broadband service that Verizon sells to its consumers is 50Mbps. The company could easily sell 100Mbps service, but so far, it has seen little demand for such speeds. Finding new applications, such as holography to fill big pipes of data, is important for Verizon to continue driving demand for its service. Kheradpir is confident the market will catch up.
"I remember when AOL first came out and people wondered why people would ever need faster than 56Kbps downloads," he said. "Every time we have increased the speed of service, consumers and others have found a way to fill the pipe. I'm confident that someone will figure out what to do with all that capacity."