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SCTE and ATSC explore 3-D program delivery

With the recent success of live 3-D sports test transmissions, two key industry standards bodies are now looking into ways to practically get bandwidth-hungry signals to the home.

The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) and the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) are both investigating the standardization required for the carriage of 3-D content on cable networks and over the air via digital stations’ terrestrial transmissions.

The SCTE’s Engineering Committee has approved a project called “3D over Cable” that will identify necessary or desirable changes to existing SCTE standards — including transport protocols — to facilitate the provision of 3-D content by cable operators. The SCTE has 160 cable operators, vendors and allied organizations among its members who help evaluate new technologies.

Coincidently, at the recent Hollywood Post Alliance gathering in California, a representative from the ATSC discussed new interest in transmitting 3-D content as part of a next-generation digital transmission standard, unofficially named ATSC 2.0. The proposed standard includes a suite of 26 features that address sending such new formats as 1080p/60, 3-D and two-way interactivity.

The SCTE’s 3-D project has been assigned to the association’s Digital Video Subcommittee, which will make recommendations on standards and protocols based on the needs of the cable industry.

Heretofore, experiments in 3-D television, including sports broadcasts hosted by the NBA and NFL, have been conducted whereby signals were sent to specially equipped theaters across the United States. However, establishing a practical infrastructure for the widespread adoption of 3-D broadcasting has been problematic and costly due to a lack of consistent standards.

Charlie Kennamer, the SCTE Engineering Committee chairman, said that while some 3-D content is available today over cable, the long-term delivery of next-generation 3-D content will be strengthened by the adoption of “uniform engineering and technical criteria.” He said the SCTE will look at the latest compression algorithms associated with current 3-D television technology to develop standards that can be used by the cable industry to deliver a more immersive television experience.

Likewise, the ATSC’s Graham Jones said that in order for 3-D to the home to be successful, consumer electronics manufacturers — which must develop and market new (hopefully affordable) TV sets capable of displaying 3-D content, as well as broadcasters, have to help move the initiative along.

Ultimately, the groups must work together to make 3-D a real success. To this end, the SCTE said it will consider not only cable industry activities but also standards work being conducted by other organizations such as the ATSC, SMPTE and the Consumer Electronics Association. The SCTE subcommittee will discuss the project at its annual meeting in March.