Pros still sorting out options for stereo production and broadcast

TV channels will be bowing their first 3D programming in weeks, but they do face challenges in achieving a perfect launch.

Many of the channels do seem confident of meeting their tight deadlines, including Comcast signing on to deliver the Masters golf tournament in 3D in April and ESPN showcasing 3D coverage of the World Cup 2010 soccer championships in June.

However, one potential problem ESPN and others will have to resolve is figuring out how to deliver 3D signals in different formats to the different cable/satellite providers. Depending on preference, it’s expected that these providers will require various formats, which is the pattern in which 3D imagery is displayed. Likewise, manufacturers are also selling TVs compatible with different 3D formats as well.

“In a perfect world, you want one format – but this is so new,” said Kevin Stolworthy, senior VP of technology at ESPN. “Someone may want side-by-side, some will want checkered and others top-bottom. There are still a lot of details to be worked out. But as the technology group, we have to be prepared to deliver a signal in whatever format they need.”

There have been successful 3D TV broadcasts this year, namely UK-based SKY delivering eye-popping imagery of the Manchester United versus Arsenal soccer match in January. Utilizing software and camera systems from 3ality Digital, SKY rolled out its live broadcast to numerous 3D-enabled TVs in pubs across UK and Ireland.

3ality aims to help U.S. and European channels efficiently deliver a quality live 3D signal, which if done incorrectly could create blurry viewing results. The company’s technology promises to easily auto-correct certain filming flubs, including vertical misalignment and focus mismatch.

“[Traditionally in 2D] you are looking with 2 eyes at one image and your eyes are working in tandem, but with 3D one image is going into the right eye, and one is going into the left eye,” explains Sandy Climan, CEO of 3ality Digital. “If horizontal alignment, color or geometry or anything is off, it will lead to eye strain, a headache or worse. The 3ality system corrects for all of these issues.”

Climan believes the company’s technology can swiftly transform the 2D broadcaster into an excellent 3D broadcaster.

“While 3D is difficult, you don’t need a degree in advanced physics to shoot in 3D,” he says. “We can turn the people who are creative experts with 2D into creative experts with 3D.”

The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) is discussing forming a group devoted to solving 3D production problems. Its main priority however is establishing a master delivery format for 3D, where the technology can work seamlessly across any platform, including Blu-ray Disc, cable/satellite and Internet.

“How do you ensure that your camera man is maintaining a good focal point for the consumer? How do you make sure that a station’s logo or a game score will look good?” asks Wendy Aylsworth, VP of engineering at SMPTE. “That is a huge challenge to do in real time…Engineers in the field are still learning what the issues are.”

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