Broadcasters must transmit 3D

Now that you’re comfortable with your DTV and HD build out, it’s time to sit back and relax, right?

Not if you believe the headlines. A brief tour of news related to 3D television may tempt you to head to the bar for an adult beverage. Broadcast engineers are about to have their entire facilities challenged with the need to handle 3D programming.

It’s already scheduled for two services in Europe. The UK broadcaster Channel 4 announced last month that it plans to broadcast 3D television programs this fall. Channel 4’s competitor, Sky Television, has already demonstrated 3D television with its closed-circuit broadcast of a live Keane concert to a Hyundai 3D television. The 3D signal was also transmitted on the Internet, and viewers could experience the 3D imagery with glasses. Sky plans to commence 3D program transmission in time for Christmas.

Channel 4 plans to encode the 3D transmission using technology from the company ColorCode. The network says one of its first broadcasts will be of the illusionist Derrel Brown. Another program, called “The Greatest Ever 3D Moments,” is also scheduled.

Standards are of key importance to broadcasters. The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) is now firming plans to incorporate 3D imagery capability into the next version of the optical disc standard. BDA global promotions committee chairman, Victor Matsuda, said the association “intends to take full advantage of the format’s high bandwidth and capacity to achieve the very highest possible quality 3D experience.”

Sony supports 3D

Speaking at the September IFA technology trade show in Berlin, Sir Howard Stringer, Sony chief executive, announced some of Sony’s plans to support 3D entertainment with a variety of products. Those with 3D capability are said to include BRAVIA television sets, Vaio laptop computers, PlayStation3 game consoles and Blu-ray disc players.

In a press release, the company announced that its 3D compatible BRAVIA LCD TVs will incorporate frame sequential displays and active-shutter glass systems, together with Sony's proprietary high frame rate technology to enable the reproduction of full HD high-quality 3D images. The firm said this model will form the centerpiece of Sony's 3D entertainment experience for the home.

In written remarks Stringer said, “Today, 3D is clearly on its way to the mass market through technology, distribution and content. As with high definition a few years back, there are a variety of issues yet to be addressed. But the 3D train is on the track, and we at Sony are ready to drive it home.”

Sony is planning to use what it calls “active shutter” technology. This requires the use of electronic glasses containing tiny shutters that open and close rapidly in sync with the video image creating a 3D visual.

Another proposed solution, Cinema 3D, relies on polarized glasses, which is simpler (and presumably less expensive) to implement. However, the use of polarized glasses limits viewers to setting at prescribed locations with respect to the screen. That is less of an issue for theaters where the use of 3D has grown nine-fold in the last three years. There are currently about 7000 digital 3D screens worldwide.

Unfortunately, the consumer electronics industry has yet to agree on a single 3D standard, which poses the risk of a format war akin to that between VHS and Betamax or the less intensive one that occurred between Blu-ray and HD-DVD. For broadcasters, display technology standards may not make much difference. However, 3D studio and transmission capability would require facilities to be able to handle 3Gb/s signals, sometimes referred to as 1080p capacity.

Also, widespread availability of consumer 3D equipment is expected to be limited for the time being. Early adopters will have to pay extra for their new toys. For example, Hyundai’s new 3D television costs almost $5000.

Game on

Games will be the first platform to deliver most home 3D content. For this application, 3D headsets may be an early implementation. One company, TDVisor, sells an HD version headset for about $1500.

Just prior to this year’s CES, 3D gaming was high on attendees’ list of things to see. The organization Meant to be Seen3D coordinated a survey, “MTBS U-DECIDE Initiative Report,” which helped quantify interest in 3D gaming and other applications. Respondents were asked to answer 26 questions about the use and their perception of 3D games and usage. Respondents were divided into those who don’t have 3D display game technology and those who do. The results were released at CES.

Sixty-five percent of 2D respondents said they found 3D “intriguing” and 27 percent more said 3D was a “must have” technology. Of course, the elephant in the living room is the issue of having to wear 3D glasses to enjoy 3D content. Table 1 illustrates how respondents felt about wearing 3D glasses (Source). For broadcasters, fully 74 percent of 2D game players said they’d wear glasses to enjoy the benefits of 3D television. For those already into 3D games, 88 percent said they’d wear glasses to enjoy 3D television.

Get ready

Broadcasters may see mobile as the next technological hurdle to jump. Even so, the need to gear up for 3D broadcasts may not be far behind.