Frame-Compatible 3D Just Fine for Now

One of the reasons stereoscopic 3D TV is becoming reality this year is that networks and pay-TV operators plan to transmit their 3D video in "frame-compatible" broadcast formats designed to work within the existing infrastructure used for HD transmission.

Such frame-compatible formats use spatial compression to reduce the horizontal or vertical resolution of the left- and right-eye images. That is a compromise early 3D programmers can live with, as adopting "full 3D"-delivering full resolution to each eye-would require doubling the current bandwidth used to deliver two-dimensional HD to the home. Another issue is that frame-compatible formats are supported by existing set-tops in the field, including MPEG-2-only cable set-tops, while going full 3D would require many operators to roll out new hardware.

Some programmers, including ESPN, have said their eventual goal is to deliver full 3D to their viewers. But executives from Comcast and DirecTV, speaking at 3DTV2010, made it clear that frame-compatible 3D is just fine for now.

"We've got plenty of bandwidth, but I'd like to start with what we have," said Mark Hess, Comcast senior VP of advanced business and technology. "It is a bit of a bandwidth issue, but with MPEG-4 it's not a huge one; as long as we use MPEG-4, we're in good shape. But my perspective is, let's roll up our sleeves [and use] what we've got."

Steven Roberts, DirecTV senior VP of new media and business development, agreed: "We've already taken a big step from anaglyph [3D], and the consumer experience is great. I think we have some time before we take the next step."