SMPTE Sets Sights on 3D Home Master Standard for 3D Content Delivery

The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) has announced the requirements for a stereoscopic 3D Home Master standard that will drive new revenue opportunities for content creators and distributors by enabling 3D feature films and other programming to be played on their home television and computer displays – regardless of delivery channels.

SMPTE says the 3D Home Master will be the cornerstone of the entire 3D content chain and will provide high-level image formatting requirements for the source materials authored and delivered by content developers. It will additionally provide requirements for the delivery of those materials to all distribution channels; from physical media to terrestrial, satellite, cable and other streaming service providers.

At the Digital Cinema Summit Wendy Aylsworth, SMPTE vice president of engineering and senior vice president of technology for Warner Bros. Studios, detailed the requirements and suggested parameters of the SMPTE 3D Home Master as developed by a cross-industry SMPTE task force launched in August 2008. Copies of the report will be available for purchase at NAB.

“This was a very important step for SMPTE to take,” says Nandhu Nandhakumar, Senior Vice President, Advanced Technology, LG Electronics. “With studio and equipment vendors saying here’s what the master formats will look like, then the rest of the distribution chain can become more focused.”

The SMPTE task force report recommends a mastering standard based on 1920×1080 pixel resolution at 60 frames per second and per eye. According to Bill Zou, Chairman of the task force and Senior Manager, Standards and Business Development, DTS, Inc., the standard will be required to support backward-compatibility to 2D images and content, hybrid products such as Blu-ray disks that can support 2D and/or 3D displays, as well as extensibility to future 3D technologies and approaches.

“Everyone was watching SMPTE for this first, critical move of defining the requirements. We had six months to finish this task – and we not only finished on time, but completed every task assigned to the committee. SMPTE should be credited for this leadership and this important first step in the advancement and broader distribution of 3D,” adds Zou.

More than 200 people from 13 countries and representing movie studios, broadcasters, cable and DTH service providers, as well as consumer electronics manufacturers and semiconductor companies, collaborated on a SMPTE 3D Home Entertainment Task Force formed last August. Given only six months and a long list of tasks, the group concluded their work in March with the SMPTE 3D Home Master definition and parameters, as well as a 3D end-to-end system description, use cases, technical requirements, and recommendations for developing 3D standards.

The next step will be the formal definition of the SMPTE 3D Home Master. A group within the standards committees will start work on defining specifications in June, with core standards expected to conclude within a year.

As in the development of the 3D Home Master requirements, the SMPTE committee will work closely with other Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) that will develop companion standards for complete end-to-end interoperability. SMPTE also will be reviewing existing standards in light of the 3D Home Master definition.

“When the committee finishes the specification work for a 3D home master, other SDOs will be able to leverage that work to move the content across various transports,” explains Aylsworth. “This will be the first step in what will become the long-awaited realization of good-quality 3D content viewing in the home.”

The move by SMPTE is important as 3D releases are generating more revenue in movie theaters than 2D releases, with recent industry and media reports of two to three times increases in box office receipts for 3D over 2D movies. In one recent theatrical release, 28 percent of 3D screen content generated nearly 60 percent of a release’s revenue in the first week. Meanwhile, consumer electronics companies see 3D as a significant differentiator that could help boost new-device sales following the widespread of adoption of HD devices and services.

“We are very bullish on 3D,” says Nandhakumar. “It’s an experience that is finally feasible at high quality and at consumer price points. With standardization happening across the board – including at all distribution links in the supply chain — and with rapid technology advances, I think 3D is very near term.”

The 3D capability leverages an end-to-end digital ecosystem already in place in many countries, and the availability of significantly expanding bandwidth. “3D capabilities can be delivered into that ecosystem and over the pipes that have been created to deliver digital content to the home. This is a very important enabler,” adds Nandhakumar. “These technologies will be quickly deployed and they create a very new and enhanced consumer experience.”

It is expected that there will be an interoperable 3D standard available in consumer systems to handle 3DTV delivery mechanisms within the next two years. Numerous manufacturers showed various 3D displays at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in the United States. “These products, or some subset of them, will be in consumer homes in early 2010,” says Nandhakumar.