HDMI Backers Ready for 3DTV Role

Proponents of the High Definition Multimedia Interface say they believe the industry will be able to deliver stereoscopic 3-D televisions—eventually—and that the HDMI interface is ready to go for first-generation 3DTVs. The Consumer Electronics Association will update a key spec at the heart of HDMI to make it ready for stereo 3-D, one of several steps the CEA is now investigating to pave the road for 3DTV. Long term, HDMI may need to boost its bandwidth to make room for a capability to deliver full high-definition views of stereo 3-D video.

"Eight months ago we tasked ourselves with looking at the stereo 3-D market, talking to studios and device guys to see if this will really happen in the home and if so when and what we need to think about," said Steve Venuti, president of HDMI LLC, the group that licenses the spec currently to more than 800 users.

"I told all the studios I am one of the biggest cynics, but I am much less skeptical having seen some of the demos," said Venuti. "It won't happen as fast as some these guys want, but it will definitely happen, probably in a trickle with a few big events like the Super Bowl," he said.

"The studios can't be more behind the technology that they think will revolutionize their business," he said. "They see new revenue streams, and the systems guys see it as differentiation."

The current HDMI version 1.3 spec supports links running up to 10 Gbits/s, plenty enough to handle left and right eye versions of 1080-progressive video at 60 Hz which requires a total of no more than 8 Gbits/s, Venuti estimated. But ultimately 3DTV proponents want to support 120 Hz rates for high definition and multiple 3-D views.

"That's a long, long way off," he said, but it could be served by a rarely used dual-link provision in the HDMI spec or an eventual upgrade of the base link. "The spec has room for growth," he noted.

In the short term, the industry needs to define a way to carry over HDMI information on the 3-D capabilities of a device and metadata signaling about a 3-D video stream. That's the job of a CEA task group working to update the CEA 861 standard that defines an uncompressed video interface referenced in turn by the HDMI standard.

"It usually takes about a year [to upgrade a specification] so the earliest we could have anything would be the fall of 2009," said Mark Stockfisch, who chairs the CEA group updating the 861 standard.

The 861 spec in future could also be the basis of other interconnects including DisplayPort and wireless links, he said. Stockfisch is also chairing a CEA task force studying other specifications needed to enable 3DTV.

"This 3-D thing is pretty huge, and there are a lot of disciplines involved," said Stockfisch, chief technology officer for Quantum Data Inc. (Elgin, Ill.), a maker of video test equipment. "I think we have a ways to go to get it all developed," he added.

"In the CEA we are discussing the broad product specifications, common terminology and how products will interface," he said. "They will probably be using existing interfaces such as HDMI that need to be extended," he added.

By Rick Merritt, EE Times