Posted by admin | 3D Tech,Standards | Monday 2 August 2010 13:19

Firing Up Competition for Industry Standard

Jun 1, 2010 00:05  by Tetsuo Nozawa

The three-dimensional (3D) imagery boom began back in about 2005, and is finally beginning to move into broadcasting. Moving pictures began in the 1890s, with moving pictures evolving from silent imagery to the “talkies,” from black-and-white to color, and recently to digital… the next step is full-scale 3D broadcasting and distribution services for 3D TVs. There are no standards yet, though, like an orchestra lacking a conductor. This article probes interoperability between competing broadcasting and distribution methods, and the future of standardization.

  • “It’s a whole new ball game this time, because 3D TVs are on the shelves, and the environment is ready for 3D broadcasting. Finally 3D broadcasting and 3D sets are both getting ready at the same time,” says Hiroshi Endo, Nippon BS Broadcasting Corp. (BS11) of Japan.
  • In December 2007, BS11 was the first broadcaster in the world to begin 3D broadcasting on an almost continuous basis. It stood alone for years, but the situation changed dramatically in 2010 as a host of broadcasters around the world began offering 3D broadcasting and distribution services using the same technology, and 3D-capable TVs became generally available from multiple manufacturers.
  • The 3D broadcasting method adopted by BS11 is called side-by-side broadcasting. It offers excellent compatibility with the Moving Picture Experts Group 2 (MPEG-2) high-efficiency coding scheme commonly used in broadcast data, which seems to be emerging as the de facto standard for 3D broadcasting. It is unclear whether or not it will be established as the standard, however, and it is entirely possible that side-by-side could end up as merely a transitional step.

Side-by-side: In the broadest sense, this applies to all transmission schemes sending the image streams for left and right eyes in parallel. 3D Video of the US began trial 3D broadcasting in Mexico in 1954, and today the general opinion in the industry is that side-by-side is not covered by a specific patent. In 1991, however, RealD, Inc. of the US claimed that it had acquired the basic patent for side-by-side. Concretely, two image streams compatible with existing broadcasting are compressed as left and right images positioned next to each other horizontally, transmitted, decompressed at the TV set, and displayed in a time-multiplexed manner. The image display is synched to the LCD shutter speed of the glasses worn by the viewer. The patent is US5193000. It expires in August 2011.

There are a number of issues involved with side-by-side, namely (1) existing side-by-side technology has limitations in terms of resolution (it cannot display full-high definition imagery) and 3D image fidelity, (2) there are a number of varieties of side-by-side, possibly making it impossible to guarantee interoperability between various broadcasts and sets, and (3) The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and other standardization organizations are talking about standardizing H.264-based 3D broadcasting into addition to MPEG-2. In other words, 3D broadcasting standardization is only really starting now that a number of broadcasters and TV manufacturers are actually offering the commercial services (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 Evolution Continues in 3D Broadcasting
Diagram shows future evolution in resolution and viewpoints for 3D broadcasting. Side-by-side and MPEG-2 are the most common technologies in use now, but H.264-based 3D broadcasting is likely to become more common in some satellite and networked services.

RealD Method Sweeping the Industry

  • It would be no exaggeration to say that the 3D broadcasting starting up around the world is all “private brand,” because the vast majority of it is using proprietary broadcasting methods. The 3D TV manufacturers have no obligation to support them all, and there are no guarantees that broadcast interoperability will be achieved. Worse, the various 3D broadcasters working on standardization are not pulling in the same direction: Most of them are primarily concerned about not falling behind in the surging “3D broadcasting” boom.
  • One 3D broadcasting/distribution technology has made great strides in the market in 2010, though: the RealD format for side-by-side, developed by RealD, Inc. of the US. Following the announcement by Sony Corp. of Japan in December 2009 that it had adopted the format, there was a rush of similar announcements at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in January 2010. Companies announcing adoption of the method include JVC Kenwood Holdings Inc. of Japan, Panasonic Corp. of Japan, Toshiba Corp. of Japan, Samsung Electronics, Co., Ltd. of Korea and DIRECTV, Inc. of the US.
  • RealD is famous for its 3D filming technology and viewing glasses, using polarized light, but it also holds a number of crucial patents in side-by-side transmission and LCD shutter glasses, for example. The flood of announcements at CES was driven by these resources. JVC Kenwood Holdings, for example, cited one of the key reasons for their selection of the RealD format as the fact that the firm already holds basic patents to side-by-side and 3D glasses.