To 3D or Not to 3D

With all the post-Avatar hype about 3D TV, when can we expect 3D broadcasts here?

“I have no friggin’ idea,” Sky TV chief John Fellet says with characteristic frankness.

Even though Sky’s sister company in the UK is planning 3D broadcasts later this year, and Foxtel across the Tasman has targeted 2011, Fellet sees too many obstacles to pledge likewise.

He was impressed with the 3D demonstrations he saw this month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas but is not convinced the technology is ready for primetime – or vice versa.

He cites the competing 3D formats, questionable consumer uptake, and the cost of converting to 3D for an operator like Sky in a market as small as NZ.

Then there’s the scarcity of content: “If I grabbed all the libraries of 3D movies, I would have enough [to programme] one channel for a week.”

Although Sky has been conducting 3D tests, Fellet says it’s still not clear if MySky HDi can decode 3D broadcasts. And if it can, he wants to test the quality at home – but won’t be able to until 3D TVs go on sale, like Panasonic’s P50V20 plasma, which isn’t likely until mid-year.

Another problem facing a broadcaster like Sky is 3D cameras aren’t backwards compatible with HD. So to film a rugby match, for instance, Sky would need separate 3D and HD cameras, which would be prohibitively expensive.

Moreover, would 3D better HD sports coverage? Fellet understands US broadcasters typically would use eight 3D cameras to film a gridiron game compared with three times as many HD cameras, and wonders if the impact of 3D would be enough to outweigh the benefit of more camera angles.

He liked what he saw at CES but warns, “Watching gridiron [in 3D] makes you a little car sick.”

Another issue Sky needs to consider is the bandwidth 3D broadcasts would chew up – the equivalent of two HD channels or eight SD channels – when Sky’s priority is on launching more SD channels (as soon as this year) and implementing interactive capability when MySky HDi reaches a critical mass (about 200,000 units, which should be realised this time next year) — although Engadget reports this may not be a stumbling block.

Fellet also will want to see consumer demand for 3D TVs, which is debatable given many have just invested in new HD TVs, and thinks the need to still wear 3D glasses is a serious limitation of the technology.

“There are some 3D sets where you don’t need glasses but you have to be centred on the screen,” he says, adding how many spare goggles will households need to watch 3D TV should family or friends visit.

“In our household we have a hard time finding the remote most of the time.”

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