"Until these standards are in place -- and it's probably going to happen sometime next year -- things are going to be messy, things are going to be complicated," Stefan Winkler, chief scientist at video test firm Cheetah Technologies LP , said during a technical workshop here Thursday focused on delivering 3D programming.
Winkler and Comcast Media Center (CMC) fellow Daniel Holden noted that several industry groups are working on technical specifications and standards for 3DTV ranging from how video is encoded and subtitled to how consumer electronics suppliers can manufacture interoperable 3D glasses. Groups working on developing 3D standards and specs include CableLabs , Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) , Motion Pictures Experts Group, and Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) , Winkler said. (See CableLabs IDs 'Safe Harbor' Bit Rates for 3DTV and Cable Engineers Push Standard for 3DTV Signals.)
It's still the early days for 3DTV programming, and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and other cable MSOs are taking a different approach to delivering the video to subscribers than rival DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV). Comcast has used the side-by-side 3DTV signal format for delivering 3D events such as golf’s Masters Tournament, while DirecTV takes the top-bottom approach for its new 3D channels. (See Comcast Courts Early 3DTV Adopters and Cable Engineers Push Standard for 3DTV Signals.)
"There will be a big conflict, I think," Holden said, noting that content providers may determine that they would need to deliver 3D programming to cable MSOs in top-bottom format, and to DirecTV in side-by-side format. "I’m not sure how this is going to shake out yet," he added.
While Holden detailed several technical challenges engineers must tackle to deliver 3D programming, he was bullish on the potential for the technology. He said 3D programming could allow programmers to eliminate traditional commercial breaks, and instead rely on 3D to tout products placed in a TV show or sporting event.
"When we get into 3D, what if what happens is you just move an object forward? So I’m watching a football game, and all the sudden a Coke can comes off of the table, takes center screen, and goes back to where it is," Holden said.
3D technology can also take animated programming to new heights, Holden said. Adding resolution in high-definition animated programming doesn't change the viewing experience much compared to watching cartoons in standard definition, but adding 3D depth to animated programs could significantly improve the viewing experience, Holden suggested.
Holden touted Comcast's plans to distribute on-demand 3D programming, but said there are some challenges and unanswered questions when it comes to delivering on-demand programming in 3D, including how viewers' perception could be impacted by the fast-forward feature and other VoD "trick modes."
"What if the football is coming at you, and when you fast-forward, it is coming at you twice as fast? Do we disable them [trick modes]? Do we enable them?" he asked.
Distributing 3D to multiple devices is another challenge for the industry, Holden said, noting that content files will have to be converted into several different resolutions, depending on the device.
Comcast is distributing its 3D programming in 1080p/24 format, Holden said. He said ESPN HD is using the 720p/60 format, and that ESPN and other sports networks plan to eventually distribute programming in the 1080p/60 format.
US networks and pay-TV providers are distributing 3D programming today in a frame-compatible format in which 3D feeds are compressed into the bandwidth occupied by a single HD channel. While the industry will eventually distribute 3D programming in full-resolution, service-compatible format, Holden said it could be several years before viewers see 3D programming in their homes in full resolution. (See TDVision Wants to Fill Up Cable's 3DTV Glass .)
"Nobody really knows how to get to full resolution yet," he added.
— Steve Donohue, Special to