2011 – A Big Year for 3D to the TV?

3D Glasses at CES on a typical cnsumer2014- the year that Parks Associates predicts that 80% of the televisions sold will be 3D capable. According to Dr. Ajay Luthra of Motorola, Inc, 2011 will be a critical year in keeping the momentum going towards the widespread commercial deployment envisioned by Parks. I had a chance to catch up with Dr Luthra at the Set-Top Box 2010 conference in San Jose.

Luthra explained that the ecosystem, which consists of content production, distribution and display, are aligned for significant deployments next year; significant in that they will lay the groundwork for the beginning of a lifecycle which could be in the mainstream in a few years. The big question that remains and that has to be answered by the market is consumer adoption and satisfaction with 3D TV in their living room (click here to see an earlier post on 3D and the consumer).

The standards groups have made significant progress in a short period of time in terms of dealing with things such as closed captioning. For instance, the adoption of the AVC SEI standard for signaling tells the set-top whether the content is 3D or 2D and how its frames are positioned. This standardization is important, because it allows the transmission of 3D through the network without modifications to encoders and only firmware updates to set-tops, instead of forklift upgrades.

click here to watch a video interview with Howard PostleyStill, there are challenges that remain, such as how graphics are handled. As Howard Postley of 3ALITY Digital pointed out at Set-Top Box 2010, great care must be taken to ensure that graphics and text don’t jump around as scenes change. This sort of thing can cause motion sickness and dizziness. Postley, whose company sells equipment which facilitates 3D content creation, points out that the production process is critical to creating both compelling and longer-form content (click here to see an earlier video interview with Howard Postley). 

One of the things he emphasizes is the importance for all of the players in the distribution chain to pass through the metadata that is created in production. This data, which is a relatively small amount, relative to the audio and video stream, provides important information to ensure that the viewer has an experience that is truly better than what they would see in two dimensions.

He suggests that service providers need to be aggressive or else they could lose the 3D market to over the top services, whether these services use a PC or a gaming console. He said that 3ALITY Digital is seeing ten times the rate of adoption of 3D on the PC, as compared to the TV. Both the gaming and PC decoding platforms offer the advantage of powerful processors and can provide a much richer experience for a given bit rate. He also warned service providers about over-compressing, as it will degrade the service.

The video for distribution via a network will be encoded in half-resolution, while the Blu-ray standard uses full resolution. Both Luthra and Postley indicated that the bandwidth premium for 3D at full resolution will be no more than 20 to 50% compared to the same stream in two dimensions. Luthra suggests that starting at half resolution is a good starting step, as the investment required to bring 3D to the masses is relatively small. As 3D to the television finds commercial success and faces competitive pressure from the higher resolution of Blu-Ray, the electronic distribution chain can upgrade to full resolution.

The big question is customer adoption and acceptance of 3D on the TV. The 'aha' moment for people experiencing 3DTV will probably be different for everyone. The recent Masters golf event might have been the 'aha' moment for me, if I had seen it in 3DTV. Dr. Luthra told me that being able to see the slope of the green impressed him and literally gave the game a new dimension. It will be interesting to see how 3DTV develops and how it enhances different kinds of content (think downhill skiing).

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