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Just when you thought it was safe

From the personal journal of Joe Broadcaster:

Let's see. The DTV transition date is just a little more than six months away. The new antenna is in place. The transmitter installation went surprisingly smoothly. The encoders and upconverters are installed, and master control is ready. I've really blown the capital budget this year, so HD news isn't going to happen for a while.

Whew! How many years has it been now since we first started the planning and then the implementation process of upgrading the station to prepare for this analog switchover? It's been too many months and too much hard work to even think about! Thank goodness, it's behind me now; it's time to try to get back to normal. I might even study the manual for that DTV analyzer and learn more about what that transport stream monitor is really telling me. First though, I had better catch up on these e-mails. Wait … 3-D? What the heck is this 3-D stuff all about? Oh no! Not again!

HD 3-D was hot at NAB

This year's NAB saw several well attended 3-D HD demonstrations. In fact, the opening day of the show was 3-D day at the Content Theater sessions. One of the more interesting sessions was a presentation and panel about 3-D HD live sports. The presentation included footage of a Dallas Mavericks NBA basketball game that was aired live in 3-D HD to an audience at a digital cinema in Dallas. The Mavericks' involvement in this project is certainly not a surprise given that Internet billionaire and founder of HDNet, Mark Cuban, is not only the team owner but also owns a chain of a digital theaters.

This experiment proved to be a smashing success. The combination of camera angles and position along with the reality experience provided by that third dimension gave the viewer the distinct feeling of being on the floor in a courtside seat. The theater audience experienced such a level of at-the-game presence that they jumped to their feet, cheering simultaneously with the fans in the arena. As a result, the NBA is now developing a strategy to distribute live 3-D HD to digital cinemas around the country, where fans will be able to purchase digital theater ticket plans. (But what about the beer?!)

At NAB, the clip of the game shown in its full 3-D glory was so compelling that during the Q&A session, one of the first questions asked by the audience of television professionals was, “When will I be able to watch this on my large screen set at home?” So while the DTV transition is still not yet complete, the path to our next visual technology marvel is being hewn in three dimensions. Indeed, we are already off and running. Tuesday morning of NAB began with the announcement of a new industry group: the 3D@Home Consortium, whose founding members include Disney, NBC Universal, Philips, Samsung and Thomson, among others.

The question

Is 3-D HDTV the next big thing? Some 50 years ago, after a small flurry of activity, that same question (less the HD part) was posed, and the answer was no. But, times are different today, as technology enablers are more readily and more easily forthcoming. With viewing technologies ranging from passive Polaroid glasses to shuttered lenses to glasses-free displays, 3-D HD technology is very much in an evolutionary stage. Glasses-free display technology, for all the obvious reasons, should prove to be the ultimate winner, and it has already been applied in digital signage projects.

The resurgence of 3-D movies, the growing popularity of 3-D gaming and the aforementioned 3-D signage all augur toward ultimately delivering the experience to the home. Given the business issues, the expected technology evolution process and the learning curve for 3-D content generation for television programming, a 2018 to 2020 timetable for a 3-D service of any real significance to the home is probably realistic.

HD's evolution

In Japan, NHK started airing one hour of 3-D content daily via satellite last December. But remember, NHK began broadcasting the first HDTV signals in the late 1980s. (Remember analog MUSE?) It has taken 20 years for HDTV to become what it is today.

Speaking of NHK and HDTV, the technology geniuses of that organization have been demonstrating Ultra High Definition Television (UHDTV) for several years now. UHDTV's 7680 × 4320 pixel images have an effective resolution 16X greater than HDTV does today. NHK plans to test broadcasts of UHDTV starting in Japan in 2015.

The heck with that DTV analyzer manual. Where are my pension plan documents? When can I retire?

Anthony R. Gargano is a consultant and former industry executive.

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