Ericsson: Over-the-Air 3D Is Closer Than You Think

Correspondent Carl Lindemann listens to some of the buzz about 3D.

3D is all the rage at the 2010 NAB Show. It seems that the movie industry’s success has stirred a rising clamor to fill an insatiable consumer hunger. However, broadcasters have yet to feed this growing appetite. Instead, movie theaters are earning premium prices while scrambling to find enough 3D screens to play the latest Hollywood releases. On the home front, 3DTV sets have only just hit the market, and these look to be fed mostly via satellite distribution and with Blu-Ray players. But what about good old broadcast TV? How far off is over-the-air 3DTV?

“The challenge is with marketing and implantation,” says Carl Furgusson, VP of product management, compression, for Ericsson. “We’re in the shakeout phase and are past the standardization process.”

As it happens, most of the groundwork for over-the-air 3D was taken care of in clearing the way for HD. According to Furgusson, the arduous process of developing and adopting HD standards fortuitously covers what it takes for bringing 3D forward, too.

In other words, the only thing standing in the way of connecting consumers to 3D content via the airwaves is the will to carry that out. The parts and pieces needed to make up these systems are good to go. Or at least the first iteration of broadcast 3D is ready. “Frame-compatible” 3D is essentially a lower-resolution strategy for shoehorning 3D into the existing HD-broadcast infrastructure.

What will follow? “The next phase will come in after about two years, as full-resolution 3D becomes possible with the next-generation decoders in new set-top boxes,” says Furgusson. “It will be the same quality as Blu-ray 3D.”

Of course, having the technical capabilities to deliver 3D to the home via over-the-air broadcast doesn’t necessarily mean that this will be how the market will develop. The Consumer Electronics Association has been pushing hard for home 3D, but that doesn’t mean that consumer demand will follow. Also, there are great expectations for sports programming to drive demand much as it did with HD. It is not clear whether that will happen here — especially since creating 3D versions may require an entirely separate production, making this a dicey business proposition.

“It will take compelling content to drive this,” Furgusson says. “The production community is just learning what it takes [to produce 3D in live environments]. Production costs for 3D may differ tremendously from event to event.”