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SMPTE Assures Smooth Path To Home 3-D TV

The Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers is crafting a set of standards that will help to ensure the many disparate approaches to 3-D high-definition video will soon be compatible with a wide range of next-generation TV displays.

Speaking before a recent 3-D Entertainment Summit co-hosted by TWICE sister publication Variety, Peter Lude, head of engineering for Sony Electronic’s Engineering Group in Silicon Valley and executive VP of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), said the eventual system for 3-D in the home will actually involve a network of standards working together to deliver stereoscopic video images across the various stages of 3-D production including: acquisition (where 3-D content is created), post production, distribution and display technology.

“Standards are so important that one is never enough,” Lude said. “That is why we have a whole number of organizations that have been actively engaged in the creation of stereoscopic study groups, requirements, documents and industry standards.”

In August 2008, SMPTE formed a task force to look at 3-D to the home and to define what 3-D is and what will be required from standards that will follow.

He said SMPTE’s role is to define standards for a system that needs multiple delivery channels (satellite, broadcast, cable and transportable media), different coding technologies, needs of the future and the use of multiple display technologies.

To start, he said, SMPTE is defining a 3-D Home Master, which he compared to the concept of a 3-D cinema master that can be played on a projector in the back of a room. The Home Master would be transported through various devices, from Blu-ray and DVD players, streaming signals, and terrestrial broadcasts, before reaching “the home theater environment,” he said.

“The 3-D Home Master will provide a single, deliverable format of content for content producers so we get a consistent vocabulary of what we need to end up with coming out of the post-product suite or mobile truck. It is a known starting point for the delivery and display so that the manufacturers, operators and multi-channel systems know what it is that the pipeline starts with, and it has to focus on the incrementals to make it future proof.”

The SMPTE 3-D Home Master, which is expected to be completed and published by mid-2010, is expected to “fulfill the concept of a release master that allows us to harmonize standards to start the process of distribution.

“From there it is going to bifurcate into different standards, depending on which industry you are in. For example, many people may not be familiar with the fact that to get a movie onto a television, a variety of systems are used depending on the delivery channel. If you are watching over cable you are going to be using quadrature amplitude modulation, if it’s over terrestrial television it is vestigial sideband modulation if its satellite it is in quadrature phase shift key modulation.”

“Different types of standards are necessary for different types of delivery platforms, and in 3-D it’s no different.”

He pointed to examples of the numbers of ways that can be used to transport a left-eye and a right-eye picture across the space of basically one high-definition picture. These include: multiplexing side to side, top to bottom; using a checkerboard or frame sequential format; using a multi-view video codec that is part of the MPEG standards under AVC or using a 2-D image complemented by a metadata channel that brings additional information for the depth, the occlusion and the transparency components of every pixel.

Different systems will be chosen for different applications, he said.

“What is put out for Blu-ray is probably going to be different than what the satellite operator chooses,” he added.

For the 3-D display, the deconstructed left-eye/right-eye signal from the source device, be it a set-top box or a Blu-ray Disc player, has to get to the display, regardless of what type the display is, in a typical fashion, he said.

This is expected to be handled by the new HDMI 1.4 standard that was developed to include stereoscopic support.

This will get all of the different stereo signal types into all the different stereo displays across one cable,” he said.

As for which display type to use for 3-D (such as frame sequential or micropole, etc.), Lude said it is irrelevant.

“It will be just like when you go to the store today to choose between an LCD or a DLP rear-projection set or a plasma display. There are many different types of displays and there will be more in the future. Each will have its pluses and minuses, and manufacturers will promote the types that they feel are best for the market they are trying to address,” Lude said, adding all will be supported.

All will start with the same 2-D standards for high definition, such as 1,920 by 1080/24p, 30p or 60p, all of these will be doubled up for the left eye and the right eye, all should be consistent and consumers will be able to buy the television that they can afford in complete trust, he added.

Regarding eye wear, “there are several different types including frame sequential using what are called shutter glasses that use a little signal that black out one eye at a time. At this time there are not many people that feel we should have a standard for signaling those glasses. You should be able to take it to your brand A or brand B television and the Consumer Electronics Association is actively looking at the standards for eye wear.

“Those still have some question marks as to how they are going to be deployed. But everyone is on board.”