Once more BSkyB is ahead of the game, but its plans for a 3D television service in 2010 come even before the relevant bodies have decided on a standard, and there are plenty of them, writes Julian Clover
When BSkyB first began demonstrating its 3D technology to the financial community and industry leaders no one could really be sure where the technology was heading. Sky’s announcement this week made it plain, straight into its subscriber’s living rooms, at least those with $5,000 to spare for a new display. You may not need any additional equipment from Sky, which can run its 3D imagery on existing Sky+ HD receivers, but a trip to the retail park will still be required.
Having witnessed the technology in action there is no doubting the impact, though my habit of breaking things makes me suggest that a monthly supply of glasses should be bundled in with the subscription, but would the same glasses be needed were I to take up, say, 3D gaming?
In April 2009 Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) said it would undertake the generation of specifications for a 3D Home Master that would create a single feed into the home and carry content from mobile, DVD, streaming, terrestrial and cable and satellite devices. The key requirement is for a video resolution of 1920×1080 and native frame rates up to and including 60p per eye view. The importance of backward compatibility to existing 3D content has been underlined by the organisation.
SMPTE plans to work with other relevant standards development organizations, as well as industry consortia and forums. In Europe alone a variety of organisations are looking to exert their influence on the infant 3D market. These include the DVB, EBU and Digital TV Group.
In a report published in June 2009 the DTG members said they feared that de-facto, non-open standards, would emerge from technology decisions being made by the first providers, most likely pay-TV operators, which would impact on later free-to-air broadcasts.
Public broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV are looking for an implementation that allows existing HD viewers to see the pictures in 2D. Some experts argue that putting left and right eye in a 1080i video frame is not really 3DTV. Rather a way of getting content from a to b.
However, Sky has gained the chairmanship of the potentially influential DVB working party on 3D broadcasting. According to the European Broadcasting Union there are currently at least six different approaches emerging for the broadcast of 3DTV. This in itself brings challenges as technical minds look to find a format that is capable of working with all of the available display types. Generally speaking the choice is between active and polarised stereoscopic systems and single view auto-telescopic that add depth to 2D broadcasts. To this different screen sizes have to be taken into account because the view from the front row of the cinema may be very different to that enjoyed at home.
The DTG consultation, conducted by Lovelace Consulting, identified a number of possible areas for research including understanding the psycho-physiological effects of stereoscopy (such as eye strain, headaches and possible safety issues), and how best to produce 3D-optimised content. Glasses-based solutions were suggested as having the best potential for first generation systems.
Introducing 3D asks the question as to where all the bandwidth is going to come from, as consumers demand an ever more personalised experience.