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Industry Works for Better High-Def 3D Broadcasts

15 Apr, 2011 By: Chris Tribbey

During a recent 3D presentation, Philip Corriveau, principal engineer for Intel and chair of the 3D@Home Consortium’s Human Factors Steering Team, pointed out a problem of which few consumers may be aware.

The current infrastructure cable, satellite and VOD providers employ was never meant to send 3D images, and current 3D broadcasts can’t deliver 1080p high-def content in 3D, with the images squeezed in half.

“The chances of [content] making it in the same quality it was created are zero,” Corriveau said. “Period.”

Resolving that is important, since consumer expectations have changed. No longer will consumers settle for less than the best when it comes to video quality, he said. “User expectations have changed significantly. They’re paying for a service,” Corriveau said. “It’s critical we understand what their expectations are, if 3D is to accomplish what we want it to accomplish.”

When the Blu-ray Disc Association established standards for 3D Blu-ray Disc, it required two separate 1080p streams, one for each eye, to be sent to displays. With broadcasters forced to send 3D programs using the existing infrastructure, no such standards exist, and current broadcasts are sent with the left- and right-eye streams combined into one. That cuts the resolution in half.

Some broadcasters, including ESPN 3D, are using side-by-side 3D, where the horizontal resolution is compressed by half, whereas others are delivering 3D content top-to-bottom, where the vertical resolution is compressed by half.

“We think that there’s going to be an evolution from frame compatible to full HD for both eyes for broadcast,” said Thierry Borel, 3D research project leader for Technicolor. He said set-top box upgrades would be needed to give consumers the best possible 3D picture.

The industry is working to resolve the problem, but a number of issues need to be confronted, cost chief among them. All along the supply chain, from production to upgrading the set-tops in living rooms, 3D is expensive.

“Costs to implement 3D are an issue and will continue to be an issue,” said Chris Chinnock, president of Insight Media, which oversees the cross-industry 3D@Home Consortium.

Global satellite operator SES World Skies is testing 3D programming for the home, and company representatives stress the need for broadcasting standards.

“The current 2D HD technologies don’t in all ways support 3D,” said Steven Corda, VP of market development for SES. He noted that the different compression rates and encoding formats, along with the various 3DTV technologies, have “a very profound impact on quality.”

“Bad two-dimensional television is just bad, while bad 3DTV is relatively painful to watch,” Alan Young, SES chief technology officer, writes on the company’s blog. “We’re drilling deeper and broader into everything from production techniques and the effect compression can have on content to the inconsistencies in 3DTV displays.”

David Cole, co-founder of Next3D, said half-resolution 3D broadcasts not only look awful, but also can cause eyestrain and headaches.

“The problem is the existing infrastructure requires that image to be scaled in half sideways or in half top to bottom,” Cole said. “All of the productions are being scaled in 2D to get it into the pipe and into homes. The eyestrain is insidious, because it adds up.”

Next3D has patent-pending technology Cole says solves the problem of getting 1080p 3D broadcasts to consumers. Instead of squeezing left eye and right eye information into a 2D frame, which is the current standard, Next3D’s technology is “eliminating redundancies in 3D video and preserves and enhances important 3D image details.” Cole said Next3D’s broadcast technology could deliver 1080p 3D in the same amount of bandwidth currently being used to deliver half-resolution 3D.

The company recently expanded a partnership with Turner Broadcasting to include stereoscopic 3D production and delivery of live events in 3D, in 1080p.

“Our approach is to partner with advantaged technology companies, such as Next3D, to deliver high-quality 3D content over existing digital infrastructure,” said Jim McCaffrey, EVP of operations and chief strategy officer for Turner Broadcasting System Inc. “Next3D has demonstrated to us that its compression technology addresses some of the major challenges to delivering 3D content.”

About the Author: Chris Tribbey

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