DVB-3DTV: A Milestone


Bob Pank#
In 1822, George Stephenson set his Standard Gauge for the world’s first steam railway at 4 foot 8 inches (1.44m), to match a nearby wagonway that worked well at Killingworth Colliery. Despite Isambard Kingdom Brunel building the London-to-Bristol line (1838) on what he considered to a better 2.2m ‘Board Gauge’ (he was right!), the Gauge Act of 1846 made the Standard Gauge compulsory for all railways because, as we know today, standards are a good thing (though IKB may have thought otherwise as he had to relay his track and rebuild the rolling stock) and, even today, the Standard Gauge is used around the world.
Now the latest hot news is that DVB (www.dvb.org) has agreed its standard for ‘Frame Compatible Plano-Stereoscopic 3DTV’, which they have now passed on to ETSI for formal standardisation. 3D Diaries has already pointed out the need for a 3DTV standard and applauds the speed of this decision. With my spell checker depositing red lines all over this text, thankfully DVB offers some explanation. The system enables service providers to use their existing HDTV infrastructures to deliver 3DTV that is compatible with 3DTV-capable displays already in the market. The DVB system covers both set-top box delivering 3DTV services to a 3DTV-capable display via HDMI, and a 3DTV-capable display / receiver / turner. DVB explains plano-stereoscopic 3DTV as delivering two images (left and right) to be seen simultaneously, or near simultaneously, by the left and right eyes. So that’s pretty much like the 3D available today from Sky, which, by the way, in late January reported 70,000 ‘sign-ups’ since the October launch.
So now programme-makers, broadcasters, TV set and set-top box manufacturers all have a standard to work to so everything will plug together and work together… maybe. The choice of standard must come as a surprise to some – such as the majority of broadcasters who took place in an EBU survey during 2010.
The survey results as published by Broadband TV News in July, show that more than half of the broadcasters preferred a ‘Service Compatible’ format for 3DTV. This goes further away from existing HD transmission formats to create a system that uses less bandwidth than the Frame Compatible scheme; and so is more friendly to the delivery service. If you think about it, stereo 3D delivers two pictures, left and right-eye, that are almost the same. So a lot of information is repeated, which indicates there should be a more efficient way of sending it. One way is to send one ‘eye’ (eg the left) as complete picture (well, MPEG compressed) along with so-called ‘delta’ information, which is the difference between the left and the right. The idea is that the delta data will be much smaller than that needed for the whole right-eye picture and so save a large chunk of bandwidth – a valuable economy, especially for bandwidth-strapped terrestrial broadcasts.
Here we find the TV industry, like many others, stuck in legacy drag. I am a fan of standards as they are vital to the wide deployment of technologies but the big question for the standards bodies is when to offer a degree of backward compatibility with existing standards and when to make a clean break. Poor IKB paid heavily for his brave move but he was probably a few years too late to force a new gauge – there were too many miles of ‘Standard’ already out there. However I wonder if DVB has not been too cautious in going with a standard that, I think, fits with current 3D deployment – all 70,000 of them in the UK, but goes against the preferences previously shown by broadcasters. Let’s face it, 3DTV is still in its infancy and everyone knew that, when a standard arrived, existing systems may not comply. The standard chosen by DVB means anyone wanting 3D will still have to get a new display (even if they have an HD screen), which is the big expense. The Frame Compatible system can be used directly by Sky HD (and I guess, some other) HD set-top boxes – saving the much smaller ‘box’ expense. I don’t see that the customer gets much advantage over the ‘Service Compatible’ scheme. Also some broadcasters may not be delighted either.
In the UK we have recently seen standards decisions that would probably make the great pioneering IKB turn in his grave. There was the resolution to stay with DAB(1) – so when VHF goes off I’m stuck with awful bubbly sounding digital radio – the more advanced DAB2 should be better. And again the excellent Freeview now has to live with the decision, taken only a year or so ago, not to go to a single-frequency UK network which would have heaps of advantages. The reason given was that a fraction of the original ONdigital STBs did not have the necessary (2K COFDM I believe) chips in them. This goes back to 1998; how many of that fraction are still in use?
Was DVB’s 3D decision too heavily weighted by a relatively small bit of legacy that will look minute in a few of years’ time? There is always the danger that the broadcasters and service providers may go their own way and various flavours of set-top boxes will pile up ever higher behind our 3D-capable TV screens. As ever, time will tell.
Now for the hot news. PCWorld (USA) reports that Penthouse Magazine has just announced Penthouse 3D is launching on SES Astra 11pm to 5am European time, in ‘100 percent Full 3D Native HD’. 3DTV must be here to stay!

Tags: 3d diaries | iss051 | 3dtv | hdmi | broadband tv | dab2 | dab1 | Bob Pank#
Contributing Author Bob Pank#

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