At CES, everybody’s betting on 3-D

Tue, 01/05/2010 - 7:40am
Brian Santo

The concept of 3-D video is gaining momentum, with CableLabs reporting that the cable industry is well-positioned to deliver 3-D video to the new generation of 3-D televisions and that it will be developing some technology to make it happen, while the vendor community is preparing to develop MPEG standards.

The entire consumer electronics industry has known that 3-D technology would be the focus of this year’s CES show this week, and the 3-D-related announcements are flooding in. Samsung announced today that it will be incorporating RealD’s 3-D technology in its line of 3-D TVs. JVC and Sony are others working with RealD. Vizio is showing a line of 3-D TVs.

Following several high-profile experiments in 2009 in presenting sports in 3-D, ESPN announced the launch of a 3-D channel, ESPN 3-D. Meanwhile, Discovery, Imax and Sony are rumored to be forming a 3-D channel, according to a report in The New York Times.

And 3-D is not just for TVs either. Sony is pushing to make Blu-ray players 3-D-ready, and it has also promised a 3-D firmware upgrade for its PS3 game consoles.

Meanwhile, the first 3-D laptops are beginning to be announced. Micro-Star International (MSI) is reported to be readying one, relying on technology provided by Nvidia, according to PC World.

The availability of 3-D computers will no doubt help Next3D, which announced a service to deliver 3-D content over broadband networks. The company promised the service will begin operation in the first quarter of 2010, initially available for PCs, with support for Mac, game consoles and select set-top boxes to follow.

Providing encouragement for it all is the box office success of 3-D films such as “Up,” widely expected to get nominated for an Academy Award for its content rather than just the technology, and “Avatar,” which is getting close to becoming only the fifth film in history to reach $1 billion in box office receipts (no doubt helped by the extra charges some theaters are levying for the 3-D showings). Both films, by the way, relied on RealD’s 3-D technology, as did “Coraline,” released earlier in 2009.

CableLabs acknowledged having issued a request for information (RFI) about 3-D last March, and as a result of the input it got said it has expanded its support for development of 3-D television technology.

While RealD has been picking up support for its display technology, there are numerous ways to create the impression of a third dimension in video. CableLabs said it is working on a system that will be able to deliver a high-definition 3-D image to today’s new generation of 3-D TVs, regardless of their native display technology.

The system would cover a full range of technologies, including various frame-compatible, spatial multiplexing solutions for transmission, CableLabs said. The organization said it has determined that many of the digital set-top boxes deployed by cable operators are capable of processing 3-D TV signals in frame-compatible formats.

A frame-compatible 3-D format is one that carries separate left and right video signals within the video frame used to convey a conventional (2-D) high-definition signal by squeezing them to fit within the space of one picture, CableLabs explained. The advantage of such a format is that it can be delivered through existing plant and equipment as if it were a 2-D HDTV signal.

While the frame-compatible formats will enable support for stereoscopic 3-D signaling almost immediately, work continues on an effort to define a long-term solution that will enable support for 3-D content that can be delivered at resolutions and frame rates as high as 1080p60 for both eyes.

CableLabs President and CEO Paul Liao said, “This system will deliver a high-definition 3-D image to today’s new generation of 3-D TVs, regardless of their native display technology.”

“As with 3-D cinema, the viewing of 3-D TV in the home will require special glasses. Cable-delivered 3-D video works equally well with displays using active shutter glasses and with displays using passive polarized glasses,” said David Broberg, vice president of consumer video technology at CableLabs.

Cable’s VOD and SDV systems can deliver the 3-D TV signals to those subscribers who have upgraded to new 3-D TVs, while simultaneously delivering a 2-D variation of the program to existing subscribers with only a small fractional increase in bandwidth needed, CableLabs attested.

Meanwhile, the MPEG Industry Forum (MPEGIF) has formed a 3DTV Working Group, whose first meeting is being held this week at CES. The founding members are Motorola, Harmonic, dicas, NetLogic, MainConcept and TDVision.

“Clarity in the set of technologies required to complete a comprehensive delivery chain for 3-D video is vital to its success,” said David Price, vice president of MPEGIF and vice president at Harmonic. “The investment in everything from cameras, editing and production suites to encoders to CPE demands global standardization to give business models a chance of success.”

More Broadband Direct 1/05/10:
•  At CES, everybody's betting on 3-D
•  Comcast wraps up DOCSIS 3.0 deployment in Mass.
•  MoCA, HomePlug agree to collaborate
•  DECE announces 21 new members
•  LG, Panasonic build Skype into TVs
•  Broadcom gears up for CES
•  Obama, NTIA: Spectrum key to broadband competition
•  Report: Apple tablet device coming in January
•  Broadband Briefs for 01/05/10



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