If Japan wants to be TV Head Honcho again it must focus on R&D

Japanese companies want to reclaim the title of top TV manufacturer in the world. Japan had the hedge on telly manufacturing for decades with CRT screens, but LCD TVs elbowed their way in and South Korea took over. To claw back to number one, it must focus on research and development.

Fully stereoscopic TV may be the answer, reports Nikkei.net (subscription). The National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, or NICT, showed off a fully stereoscopic image of a bloke kicking a football in what is suggested is the world’s first. It used over 100 projectors to create the illusion that the boy was actually in the room – think Princess Leia and her “help me Obi Wan” hologram.

The technology works and it has partial government backing. The big question is making fully stereoscopic technology available at a reasonable price – it’s not likely to find a commercial space for at least a decade. But with growing consumer distrust over the quality of 3D tellies at the moment it’s an option that if played right could give Japan the edge.

What differentiates Japanese R&D departments from Western counterparts or indeed others in the Asia-Pacific region is fierce company loyalty. Corporate culture is heavily embedded into Japanese living, and researchers tend to defend their technologies – you are happy to work for a company as it’s part of who you are. Consumer electronics companies are working in tandem with the NICT to further develop fully stereoscopic, and it’s likely that is where the technology will break first. 

But in the meantime some analysts believe the expected boom of embedded screens and Internet TV is an area where Japan may be able to shine. It will face heavy competition from all fronts, though, such as Samsung’s BaDa and Intel and Nokia’s Western, but open source project MeeGo.

Nikkei.net thinks for now, strong R&D must be invested in a sideways look at software applications, such as facial recognition technology. It cites Toshiba’s president Norio Sasaki’s visit to one of his R&D centres in Kawasaki earlier this month, where he was shown a demonstration of facial recognition effectively integrated with TV and streamed videos.

An example given is allowing the main character to star in a TV drama, but we can’t imagine wanting to see our faces superimposed on the cast of Downton Abbey. And anyway, we’re firmly in interactive territory here – and gaming is well covered by Japan already.

It seems Japan’s strength lies in its research. A full breakthrough could land it firmly back at the top of world television and electronics charts instead of simply being a strong contender. It may be decades away – but worth keeping at least one eye open.