Wimbledon 3D Distribution to Theaters Underscores Need for New Standards

Wimbledon in 3D is going theatrical and tennis fans around the globe are able to check out this weekend’s action in 3D on the big screen. But getting that single 3D production out to hundreds of theater around the globe isn’t a straightforward process as the digital cinema landscape is still a mix of formats, resolutions, and technology providers.

Larry Barbatsoulis is heading up the international distribution efforts for Can Communicate and the Wimbledon 3D efforts. With the help of Arqiva and satellite providers like Intelsat the 3D signal is being distributed out to Arqiva’s facility in Winchester via Intelsat 905 and then back out over 905 for European distribution, to IS9 for distribution in Canada and North and South America, and then to Israel via EB3 where, in turn, it is delivered to Asia via AsiaSat5.

Getting the signal onto the bird is the easy part. It’s making sure that it will be easily available around the globe that raises issues as, unfortunately, serving the lowest common denominator (and lowest quality service) rules the day.

“The new Sony 4K projectors that can take 1080p are great but there is still a lot of generation one equipment out there and we need to convert the 1080i production to 720p before sending it out worldwide,” says Barbatsoulis.

The challenge of 3D distribution is compounded by working with theater personnel who aren’t very technical. “A broadcaster knows how to make things right but in a lot of the theaters the laps aren’t set right,” adds Barbatsoulis. With three language tracks being available (English is default and Spanish and Portugese are also available) the hope is that all of the theaters can get that part right, let alone tweaking systems to maximize resolution and picture quality.

Challenges aside, Barbatsoulis says feedback from theaters has been positive and that as more and more live events like Wimbledon in 3D become available more theaters will not only become interested but also become interested in maximizing the experience.

“The theaters are starting to jump in and we had some good discussions with Sky about the potential to put Sky receivers in every theater with Sony 4K projectors and that would get us to 1,000 theaters in Europe alone,” Barbatsoulis says of the potential for live sporting events to become a real force in digital cinema.

Near term, however, the goal is to encourage developments that make it easier to maximize the distribution quality while meeting the needs of 3D digital cinema providers like Real, Sensio, Dolby, and Xpand.

“All these systems create pockets of distribution and one of our goals is to tie them together and serve out signals on a regional level,” adds Barbatsoulis.