No one wants to be left behind in 3-D

From the vendors selling 3-D equipment to buyers on the fast track to purchase it, NAB came back to life this year after last year’s economic meltdown. Whether 3-D succeeds in the long term or not, major broadcasters are fearful of being left behind.

One example is Turner Broadcasting, who is “moving full speed ahead” on 3-D technology, said Ron Tarasoff, Turner’s vice president of broadcast technology and engineering. He said Turner sees 3-D as a viable way of transmitting TV in the future.

Today, most of Turner’s work involves equipment testing as the 3-D standards bodies consider setting future standards. “There are many different possibilities in how you produce and distribute content in 3-D,” Tarasoff said. “We need to look very carefully at what will help us with 3-D delivery. We’re almost at the same point we were many years ago with HD. There’s this big push toward 3-D, and there’s very little 3-D equipment out there. There are still many different possibilities in how you produce and distribute content in 3-D.”

Also checking out 3-D gear was ESPN, who is committed to airing 85 events this year. Kevin Stolworthy, the network’s senior vice president of technology, said that at NAB he was looking for vendors with whom he was not familiar. “We think there’s going to be a lot more people out there with new 3-D equipment, software and production tools,” he said.

CBS’ Bob Ross said his network is also evaluating 3-D gear, though he’s not worrying yet about storing and playing 3-D programming. The network broadcast the recent Masters Golf Tournament in 3-D TV (distributed via cable operators across the country, thanks to Comcast Media Center in Denver), and it was shown throughout the convention and received overall positive reaction from viewers.

On the manufacturing side, there were many new 3-D products at the NAB Show, and several key strategic announcements as well.

Miranda Technologies announced a licensing deal with 3-D compression specialist Sensio Technologies to develop a line of 3-D playout products. The first product of the collaboration, shown at the show, was the Densité 3DX-3901 stereoscopic 3-D video processor module, which provides high-quality conversion of multiple 3-D formats.

Sensio is also collaborating with Grass Valley to include Sensio’s 3D Encoder IP Core software with the Grass Valley ViBE EM3000 H.264 HD encoder for program contribution and consumer satellite TV applications.

Panasonic announced the first customer for its AG-3DA1 dual-lens 3-D HD camcorder, which it unveiled last January at the Consumer Electronics Show. Rental house Video Equipment Rentals (VER) has purchased 10 of the integrated HD 3-D camcorders and will receive them in the early fall. Los Angeles-based VER will rent the products from its locations in major markets throughout the United States, which include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco, among others.

Elsewhere on the 3-D front, Panasonic will work with Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to create a 3-D production studio at AEG’s L.A. Live complex in Los Angeles. The company also will collaborate with the University of Southern California Entertainment Technology Center to study the psychophysical effects of 3-D viewing in the home and create production guidelines for 3-D content.

Sony introduced a concept of a 3-D camera it co-developed with Discovery International at NAB during the Digital Cinema Summit. During his keynote speech, John Honeycutt, executive vice president and head of international business operations for Discovery International, called it the “camera of the future” and revealed it would include one 3in CMOS sensor per eye, HD (1920 x 1080) capability, interchangeable lenses, convergence control and metadata support. Field tests are scheduled to start in July.

At another point in his speech, Honeycutt held up the new Panasonic 3-D camcorder and described it as a tool to be used extensively (and cost-effectively). He also outlined plans for a 3-D channel from Discovery, Sony and IMAX slated to launch this year. The channel’s target audience is primarily men ages 25-49 who are tech savvy and likely to be early adopters of the technology.

“We think there is a real audience for this channel,” he said, adding that the “deep reservoir” of content that would be available on the channel includes Sony movies, Discovery TV content and IMAX films.

"We only have one opportunity to impress consumers,” he said. “We are not going to skimp on quality."

Honeycutt said he was optimistic about 3-D TV set sales, although he cautioned that “approximately 12 percent of all people have issues with their binocular vision, making 3-D viewing extremely difficult or impossible.”