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Standardization for 3-D content delivery in the works

Now that many have figured out how to make beautiful 3-D images, solutions to the numerous challenges of getting them to digital cinema and consumer home screens in the most efficient way are being discussed in earnest.

The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) is currently working on a 3D Home Master standard that will provide high-level image formatting requirements for the source materials authored and delivered by content developers. It will also provide requirements for the delivery of those materials to all distribution channels, from physical media to terrestrial, satellite, cable and other streaming service providers.

The organization has announced an International Conference on Stereoscopic 3D for Media and Entertainment, to be held in New York City on July 13-14, 2010 at the Marriott Marquis. (Online registration is now open at and a call for technical papers has been issued.) The conference will feature academic research, lab study results and discussions of emerging and experimental technologies.

At the 2010 NAB Show, Dolby Laboratories announced a new open specification for broadcast 3-D delivery that details how 3-D images can be encoded and carried using frame-compatible techniques through a conventional 2-D broadcast infrastructure. The company said that the specification is fully compatible with enhancement layer approaches, enabling extensibility to full-resolution 3-D in the future.

Jason Power, senior director of broadcast marketing for Dolby Laboratories, said the Dolby specification allows professional equipment manufacturers to create frame-compatible 3-D encoding tools using an open packing format. The special encoding technique preserves image quality and facilitates an efficient resolution upgrade. Dolby is already working with multiple leading equipment vendors to demonstrate encoding solutions using this format.

The specification is scheduled to be available in May to manufacturers, operators, broadcasters and other relevant industry parties free from Dolby.

SMPTE expects to finalize the core specifications of the 3D Home Master standard by the end of this year.

For Europe, the DVB Project has launched its own initiative that is intended to produce a series of standards for the handling and distribution of 3-D TV content. The current plan is that the first phase of the system will be finalized this year.

The DVB Project has established two groups of specialists, to be led by David Wood (EBU) and David Daniels (BSkyB). The first group is currently preparing the commercial requirements for 3-D TV. The second will respond with a technology that will meet the requirements. The technical system, once agreed by all concerned, will be submitted to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The Phase 1 system will allow viewers to keep and use their existing set-top box for 3-D broadcasts, but they will require a new TV display. Current 3-D TV displays all call for the viewer to use special glasses to obtain the stereoscopic effect, but this is a familiar requirement for those who enjoy 3-D at the cinema today.

A critical component of 3-D TV using set-top boxes will be the connection between the set-top box and the 3-D TV display, and here the DVB Project will be matching the provisions of the HDMI connector for the 3-D TV environment. It is understood that the new 3-D displays will be compatible with the Phase 1 broadcast format. The new 3-D TV displays can, of course, be used for both normal 2-D broadcasts and 3-D TV broadcasts.

The DVB commercial experts are also discussing a Phase 2 system that could be needed to meet other requirements. The group said there may be the need for existing receivers to have available a 2-D version of the same program as part of the 3-D TV channel, or the need for viewers to be able to adjust the picture depth for maximum “eye comfort” (e.g., older viewers seem to prefer less depth in the picture than younger viewers).