Nagravision Set-Top Guide Pops Into 3-D

Get ready for TV listings that jump into your lap.

Nagravision this week showed off the first example of a set-top guide created specifically for 3-D stereoscopic viewing. While it's likely to be years before cable or other TV operators offer 3-D television services and programming on a broad scale, the set-top middleware vendor is trying to get ahead of the curve on the technology.

"We felt it was the right time to introduce a media guide in 3-D to show operators and partners what a 3-D interface would look like," said Frank Dreyer, Nagravision's global team lead of consumer-electronics creative. "In the same way we built products for HD, we want to lead customers into the 3DTV world."

According to Dreyer, one thing the Nagravision team learned early on is that viewers need to have "an immersive experience" in 3-D mode. That means all controls and visual elements, such as volume and on-screen program information, need to be in 3-D stereoscopic format.

"It's a very unnerving experience when you use 2-D graphics in a 3-D environment. It breaks the illusion," Dreyer said.

Switzerland-based Nagravision unveiled the prototype at Amsterdam's IBC 2009 tradeshow this past week and also showed it at the 3D Entertainment Summit in Los Angeles. The demonstrations featured content produced by 3ality Digital, a 3-D video production company, including U2 concert footage and highlights from the National Football League's Super Bowl XXXVIII.

The Nagra Media Guide for 3-D was running on a PC, using an implementation of Adobe Systems' Flash Media system. But Dreyer said the enhanced guide doesn't require a "super-charged" set-top: "You just need engineers who know what they're doing."

The middleware company used 3ality's Burbank, Calif., studio to develop the three-dimensional screen elements. "We were able to take 3-D video, throw our EPG [electronic program guide] on top of it, and evaluate the subtle differences for mastering graphics in 3-D," Dreyer said.

Nagravision's three-dimensional guide is able to support the two main types of 3-D glasses and display technologies: polarized (which creates a stereoscopic image by restricting the light that reaches each eye) and active shutter (which open and close special shutters in synch with the screen's refresh rate).

In creating the 3-D prototype, Nagravision found it couldn't use certain graphical elements that are part of conventional guides, such as transparency. The placement of elements on the screen is also an issue; for example, it's jarring if you're watching a football game and the channel guide suddenly cuts off the tops of the players' heads, Dreyer noted.

"There are subtle rules on how you achieve the 3-D experience," he said.