Carrying the load for 3-D

Despite the naysayers, the momentum behind 3-D TV to the home continues to build as TV service providers appear to see it as a competitive edge. Last week Comcast — one of the nation’s largest cable TV service operator with roughly 23.5 million subscribers in 39 states — said it would carry ESPN's new stereoscopic 3-D channel as part of its digital service. This followed news (in March) by DirecTV that it would also carry the 3-D content from the World Cup (beginning June 11) and beyond.

Like the early days of HDTV, service providers appear desperate to attract or retain subscribers with any gimmick they can conjure up. Maybe 3-D will reduce the dreaded “churn?” Beyond the World Cup event, ESPN has promised to make a total of 100 events available in 3-D on demand via both Comcast and DirecTV.

Keeping pace, Verizon has announced it will make 3-D programming available via its FiOS service later this year, and Discovery’s 3-D channel (in partnership with Sony) is set for 2011.

Most 3-D programs will be delivered as side-by-side stereoscopic content, requiring viewers to have a compatible TV set and use active (polarized) glasses. Operators will send two separate HD signals to a cable headend, where it the will be combined and sent to viewers’ homes as a single, dedicated channel. This allows cable operators to use the same boxes now deployed for HDTV and connected through HDMI cables.

In April a live telecast of the 2010 Masters golf tournament was produced by ESPN (sponsored by Sony) and sent this way by Comcast’s Media Center, in Denver, which made it available to every cable operator in the country (except Charter Communications) as two 720p HD signals combined. (Going forward, Comcast will use dual 1080p HD signals.) Comcast also made an H.264 and VC-1 stream available for viewing at the event’s website.

Brian L. Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast, said he believes that sports will drive the adoption of 3-D technology in the home. The question everyone is trying to answer is: how soon?

ESPN 3D will sign on the air June 11 with the first 2010 FIFA World Cup match featuring South Africa vs. Mexico. The 3-D network will televise up to 25 matches throughout the World Cup. Along with college football and NBA games, schedule highlights for the new network include the X Games (July 28-Aug. 1); college basketball's Old Spice Classic (Nov. 25-28); college football's ACC Championship (Dec. 4); Jimmy V Classic (Dec. 7); 2011 BCS National Championship game (Jan. 10, 2011); Winter X Games (Jan. 27-30, 2011); and college basketball's Big East Tournament (March 8-12, 2011).