Now that you know a little bit more about how today's latest 3D technology works, you are probably wondering what you will be able to watch in 3D. Since 3D for the home is still in the early phases of introduction, there are currently only a few options for 3D content. However, as 2010 and 2011 unfold, there will be more and more content produced, released and broadcast to the home through a variety distribution channels.
As with the introduction of high definition television, Hollywood is leading the way by making many of its movie titles available in 3D. But when HDTV was launched in 1998, despite the growing number of HD movie titles, there was very little live content being captured and broadcast. It wasn't until a significant number of live sporting events and special event programs were broadcast in HD that the format was truly embraced by consumers. 3D (like HD programming) has also taken time for content producers and networks to adopt. The good news is that cable networks such as ESPN, Discovery, and satellite and cable service providers like DirecTV, have produced and distributed sports and other live action 3D content this past Summer and will continue to do so into the Fall season. However, what content is available locally will vary by content provider.
Beyond traditional HD television, 3D will also transform video game entertainment through game consoles such as the PS3 and XBox 360. 3D content will also be delivered via the internet. These two additional outlets for 3D programming will energize the category and should ultimately accelerate the acceptance of 3D in the home by consumers faster than any TV technology previously introduced.
3D programming will be produced and distributed in several video signal formats. It is not necessary to be familiar with the details of these formats, but at this early stage it may be useful to understand the basic differences in the formats used for Blu-ray discs, satellite, cable, video game and internet delivered content. We will present some of those format differences for you here.Blu-ray Disc
Have you experienced a 3D movie in the theater? Perhaps you were one of the millions of U.S. moviegoers that paid an additional few dollars to see Avatar in 3D. This one movie has single-handedly changed the way Hollywood views 3D. The overwhelming success of Avatar in 3D in early 2010 was so widespread that movie-makers have fully embraced the creation of 3D films. Over 90 3D movies are scheduled to be released in theaters this year and next. Not only will these 3D movies be released to theaters, but Hollywood is preparing to get many of these movies released on 3D Blu-ray Disc in order to leverage the home video marketplace.
So why has Hollywood selected Blu-ray Disc (BD) for the distribution of 3D content? Well, with the very large storage capacity of BD, 3D movies can be stored in extremely high quality. This is accomplished by using a new compression method called MVC or multi-variant coding. MVC uses standard compression techniques along with a method for compressing both the left and right eye frames that utilizes the difference between the two frames rather than encoding both frames separately. The advantage of MVC is that it can maintain a very high quality 3D picture without a large increase in the memory requirements on the disc. The disadvantage is that this new 3D coding format requires a new BD player to decode the disc.
Perhaps more important than the new MVC coding format is the output video signal format of the new 3D BD players called frame packing. In order to deliver the highest quality 3D video signal from the new 3D BD player to a 3D television, a new high bandwidth signal format was defined. The frame packing format, as defined by the Blu-ray Disc Association, prescribes that a 1080p left eye frame and a 1080p right eye frame be sent sequentially over an HDMI interface to the television. This is done at a frame rate of 24Hz per eye, which matches the native frame rate of film.
When the 3D television receives this 24Hz 1080p left/right signal it converts the signal to 120Hz or higher for display in 3D. Each display technology converts the frame packing signal somewhat differently based on the inherent display format. For example, most LCD and plasma 3D televisions internally convert the signal to page flip or line sequential formats necessary for display, while 3D DLP televisions internally convert the signal to checkerboard format for display. Blu-ray's frame packing format is one of three main 3D transmission formats that are available today. The remaining two will be discussed in subsequent sections.Satellite/Cable
Are you a World Cup soccer fan? A college football fan? Perhaps an X-Games fan? ESPN has delivered sports and more in 3D beginning in June 2010. In addition, Discovery Channel has also announced that it would deliver 3D programming starting summer 2010; details of the program content have not yet been revealed.
Also, DirecTV has begun to beam three dedicated 3D channels to its HD set-top box customers starting in June 2010. DirecTV has said that these channels will offer 3D video-on-demand as well as live and pre-recorded 3D programming. DirecTV customers with HD set-top boxes will be able to upgrade their firmware to enable the boxes to receive 3D broadcasts. These updates to these set-top boxes have begun and require an HDMI interface. Please visit the DirecTV web site for details.
Cable operators have been somewhat quiet about their plans for 3D TV program delivery. However, CableLabs, the research consortium for the large cable operators, has announced their support for a variety of 3D formats. These include variations of the two primary 3D broadcast formats called (1) side-by-side and (2) top-bottom. It is likely that satellite will also support these two 3D broadcast formats.
The side-by-side and top-bottom signal formats differ from the frame packing format in that they are tailored specifically for broadcast applications. Broadcasters (including cable, satellite and over-the-air providers) must continue to support existing transmission standards; and since they are a multi-channel service rather than a dedicated source device (such as a BD Player) they need to adopt 3D transmission formats that fit within the current signal structure. As a result, broadcasters must support "frame compatible" 3D signal formats such as side-by-side and top-bottom. By doing so, the multi-channel service provider can deliver 3D signals transparent to the existing devices connected to their network.
These new formats can create artifacts such as ghosting; however, broadcasters can reduce these artifacts by providing additional picture information in the side-by-side or top-bottom formats.Game Consoles
Since video games are created digitally via computer graphics animation, they are inherently 3D. NVidia has been very active in providing solutions for 3D PC gaming over the past couple of years. The next wave of 3D gaming will be console based. One console game that has been released in 3D on BD this year is Avatar The Game. Avatar was designed to play on today's PS3 and XBox 360. The game enables output in a variety of signal formats including: SBS, TB and checkerboard (which is the native display format of 3D DLP). Avatar The Game can be played in 3D on any 3D ready DLP Home Cinema TV built since 2007. The game does not output the BD frame packing format.
Further announcements on 3D games via PS3 or Xbox 360 are expected in fall 2010. It is not clear what format these console gaming machines will choose to output. They may output SBS, TB, checkerboard or even BD frame packing. Sony has provided upgrades for the PS3 for 3D games and has also announced that the PS3 will be upgradable for 3D Blu-ray disc playback, via a free software update on September 21, 2010.Internet
The Internet Connected feature has become quite popular on TVs in 2010. This feature will become more and more common in 2010 and 2011. It is only natural that internet video services that offer HD video streaming like Vudu will begin to make 3D content available for streaming to TVs over the internet.
Since HD video streaming already is pushing the limits of consumer broadband connection speeds, it is likely that internet 3D content providers will utilize a 3D signal format that conserves bandwidth. Remember the signal formats that are "frame compatible", SBS and TB. These formats are inherently bandwidth efficient, since they were designed to be frame compatible. Another good thing about SBS and TB is that most, if not all, 3D TVs will be able to decode these formats. Due to the high bandwidth requirements of the BD frame packing format, it is unlikely that it will be utilized by internet streaming services to deliver 3D to the TV.
Lastly, remember MVC? It is possible that internet streaming video, which is based on a standard called H.264, could leverage a new codec such as MVC to deliver 3D video in a compressed format that is compatible with H.264. The only downside here is that most TVs would not initially be able to interpret that new format.
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