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Cablevision, Verizon Set Stage for 3DTV Battle

Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) is entering the 3DTV era tonight while one of its fiercest rivals, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), expects to do the same sometime later this year.

Cablevision is starting things off by offering Wednesday night's New York Rangers vs. New York Islanders hockey game in 3D format on the MSG network to the sliver of subs in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut who already own 3D-capable televisions and are using the MSO's high-definition-capable set-top boxes. The MSO says it will mark the first network hockey telecast ever produced in 3D.

Cablevision also announced Wednesday that it has licensed the stereoscopic RealD format to deliver hi-def 3D content directly to customer homes. The deal also gives Cablevision access to some RealD "tools" to help format the MSO's 3DTV content, but Cablevision has yet to say when it will begin to offer more 3D fare or what other 3D content it intends to carry in the early going. (See Cablevision Licenses RealD.)

Among cable networks, ESPN and Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) already have plans to launch their own 3D channels, but they have yet to announce any carriage agreements for them. (See Discovery Prez: New 3D Net Will Need 6MHz , Discovery, Sony, IMAX Team for 3DTV, and ESPN Jumps Into the 3DTV Game .)

Verizon, meanwhile, revealed on its blog yesterday that it intends to support 3DTV services on its FiOS TV network "later this year, surely in time for the holiday tech buying season, when the penetration of 3D-ready sets increases."

Like Cablevision, Verizon hasn't announced any deals to carry ESPN's or Discovery's 3DTV channels but says broadcast, video-on-demand (VoD), and pay-per-view fare will play into its three-dimensional content strategy.

"As [3D] content becomes available, TV service providers like Verizon will negotiate deals to telecast that content," Verizon spokesman Jim Smith said in an emailed response to questions. "We are in active discussions with a number of companies in the emerging 3D value chain but we are not currently making an announcement."

Another notch for RealD
The Cablevision deal gives RealD its first official cable foothold. RealD also has a distribution deal with DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV), which is getting ready to launch three dedicated 3DTV channels in June. (See DirecTV Won't Give Cable Access to 3D Nets.)

DirecTV and Cablevision will be using RealD's proprietary "side-by-side" format, which creates the stereoscopic, 3D effect by combining two separate half-resolution HD signals. The cable industry is still studying these formats, but some industry engineers are already favoring an over/under format because it's believed to deliver better horizontal resolution.

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), however, will be using a side-by-side format to deliver its 3DTV coverage of the 2010 Masters golf tournament, but it has yet to say if it's using RealD or another supplier to accomplish this. (See Masters 3DTV Coverage Exclusive to Cable .)

RealD, meanwhile, says it will be able to evolve to handle any format that ends up taking hold. RealD's format, notes spokesman Rick Heineman, is flexible enough to work with today's existing HD delivery infrastructure (broadcast, packaged media, and the Internet) using the side-by-side approach, but the technology can likewise scale up "to accommodate future delivery infrastructure."

He adds that the RealD format is designed to work with any 3D-enabled TV (plasma, LCD, DLP, LED), and that the type of glasses used (passive or shutter) corresponds to the type of 3DTV on which the consumer is viewing content.

He says RealD has already notched deals with several consumer electronics companies, including Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC), JVC Americas Corp. , and Toshiba Corp. (Tokyo: 6502), to utilize its 3D glasses technology.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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