Steady progress for 3-D TV content

Networks, sports leagues excited about format

While the electronics industry wrestles with a standard for stereoscopic television, there is steady progress toward 3-D programming, especially for sports and other live events.

“The chicken-and-egg problem is being broken,” says Ian Rose, president of Kerner Software Technologies. Kerner is part of a new 3-D TV network venture with AMG TV and hopes to be broadcasting 3-D part time by the end of 2009.

They are looking at several potential sources for programming — sources that will be available to whatever 3-D broadcasters emerge.

Several networks are experimenting with 3-D and looking forward eagerly to putting 3-D in homes.

“At each step, we get more excited about it,” says Brian Lenz, head of product development for BSkyB.

Satcaster had its first-ever 3-D telecast earlier this month, sending a Keane concert out from Abbey Road Studio to a few 3-D viewing venues and over the Web.

“At each step we realize it’s about perfecting it — it’s not about inventing it at this point.”

BSkyB has experimented with 3-D sports but chose a more arts-centric event for its first stereo telecast. “We thought, ‘Let’s not get testosterone-centric and let’s do other genres,’ so we did some arts content.”

Concerts and opera in 3-D are likely to become a regular attraction in theaters before sports, as rehearsed events in contained spaces are easier to shoot, and they present fewer technical challenges than football or basketball.

Still, some expect sports to be the “killer app” for 3-D TV, just as 3-D itself was the killer app for digital cinema, and 3-D sports tests are accelerating.

In the U.S., Burbank-based 3ality Digital has worked with the National Football League and the NCAA to beam football games to theaters. The National Basketball Assn. is especially enthusiastic about 3-D, having used technology from 3ality’s rival, Pace Technologies, to broadcast 3-D games and All-Star events to arenas and theaters.

ESPN has tested 3-D with basketball, football and the X Games, though none of its tests have been seen publicly.

The network’s exec VP of technology, Chuck Pagano, says: “From our judgment, when the fans see it, they’re going to be blown away by it. But there’s still a lot of challenges ahead.”

Aside from the lack of consumer electronics standards, 3-D distribution remains a problem.

“It’s still a bandwidth hog,” says Pagano, and while 3ality has demonstrated 3-D over a normal HD satellite link, Pagano is still looking for the next generation of broadcast compression.

Occupying some middle ground between arts and sports is the 3-D footage TV Globo in Brazil shot of Rio’s Carnaval.

“My feeling is that 3-D will be the biggest revolution in cinema, games and television for the upcoming years,” says Jose Dias, R&D multimedia director for the network.

Dias, a longtime 3-D buff, says, “The reaction (to the footage) is amazing — people really love it.”

Dias expects it will be five to 10 years before there’s a standard to bring 3-D broadcasts into homes.

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