Game, Set and Match


Bob Pank#
It was only three months ago that this column hailed featured the new DVB-3DTV standard. But already there’s talk of a second version, or rather ‘phase’, as described by David Wood of the EBU in the new 3D Roundabout newsletter. In a way this is healthy. It shows just how fast 3DTV is moving and, whereas phase 1 is designed to work with existing 2D STBs, phase 2 will be designed to run on a new specification of specialist 3D STBs.
So DVB-3DTV Phase 1 is a quick fix to get 3DTV off the ground but it has many limitations that just will not stand the test of time. Phase 2 is yet to be defined but you can bet when it is the required STBs will quickly appear. Phase 1 requires the left and right pictures to share the area of one HDTV frame – squashed side-by-side halving the horizontal definition, or top-and-bottom, halving vertical resolution, or line-by-line. Hopefully Phase 2 will take care of that as there are many seeking ‘full (definition) HD 3D’. Interestingly NHK Labs, who invented HD and then SHV and much more, have demonstrated a 1080p 3D transmission scheme using both DTTV and the Internet together. If nothing else this will show how much better 3DTV can look than what we have today. Phase 2 also opens many possibilities such as viewer controlled 3D depth range.
Interestingly this news chimes with the reported investigations of BskyB into ‘full resolution 3D broadcasting’, as revealed at TVB’s recent 3D Masters conference in London by Chris Johns, the satellite broadcaster’s Chief Engineer, Broadcast Strategy. As the broadcaster with far more experience than most others, it’s interesting they already see that more resolution would be a benefit. Also, if it takes more bandwidth, satellites are able to deliver – at a price. Johns reports he has already talked to STB manufacturers.
Judging by the ballooning volume of 3D news, especially in the last three months, there is certainly a continuing healthy interest in the subject. With live events, especially sports, commanding big viewing figures, it was no surprise that Wimbledon 2011 would feature 3D coverage – albeit just the men’s semis, and men’s and women’s finals. Since Sony and The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) announced this back in the spring there was a steady stream of services saying they would show the events. Initially it was destined for ‘suitably equipped cinemas around the world’. Then this expanded to BBC HD. As this 3D was coded as side-by-side pictures HD viewers without 3D decoders and glasses could watch BBC1 HD for 2D HD coverage on Freeview and Freesat as well as Sky and Virgin Media. A late count showed there were six countries taking TV coverage including USA, Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands and Italy as well as the UK, and cinema presentations in 22 countries on 170 screens. With one of the shortcomings of 3D said to be lack of content, this worldwide take-up was to be expected.
Some details of this AELTC/Sony/BBC production have been revealed on the BBC Internet blog site. The disposition of the cameras, as planned before the transmissions, shows that the six 3D cameras were, once again, an add-on to the 17 used in the 2D production of the Centre Court action. Interestingly one of the 2D cameras, number 17 labelled ‘3D-2’, passed through a Sony MPE-200 3D processor box for conversion to 3D. Positioned higher up in the stand it provided a long overview shot.
With a print deadline annoyingly positioned just before the finals I am still looking forward to seeing how effective this live 2D-3D conversion is, as well as the whole production. Also, Hawk Eye is a 3D processor so maybe we will see that in 3D too.
Much of the industry press has picked up a report from Informa Telecoms & Media. It forecasts that fewer than half of the 11 million 3DTV-ready homes in the UK in 2016 will be active and regular users of 3DTV content – meaning that 3D would, even by then, not be mainstream. Others point out that even 3D in digital cinemas has faded from its early 2010 high figures. The cinema situation merely proves that you can’t beat a good story and that audiences won’t go to watch any movies just because they are 3D. ‘Avatar’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ were both hugely popular movies and many wanted to see them in 3D. A year later the same quality material was not being released. And remember cinema audiences have to pay more to watch 3D and that must skew the figures somewhat.
As for 3D being mainstream TV, surely that will not happen in the foreseeable future – at least until the glasses-less screens are available, and then it’s only a ‘maybe’. There will always be demand for 3D coverage of big events, for example the royal weddings, Wimbledon tennis, big football matches, the Olympics... and so on. The things that people really want to sit down and watch. Also some dramas and perhaps pop videos could use it but News comes way down my list. In any case there is a fundamental viewing problem. 2D pictures are instantly understood, whereas a quick glance at 3D does not work so well. It’s the same problem that is seen with quick cut 3D material – human perception does not have enough time to work out the depth information. So the viewing of 3D is more likely to suit longer continuous sessions. And that’s not the way that many people watch TV.

Tags: 3d diaries | 3d | bskyb | dvb-3dtv | aeltc | wimbledon | iss055 | Bob Pank#
Contributing Author Bob Pank#

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