Sky: Olympics Likely to be Shown in 3D TV

Viewers of the London 2012 Olympics will be able to watch all the action in 3D from the comfort of their home, if Sky has anything to do with it.

"There is a very good chance you'll see the London Olympics in 3D", said Brian Lenz, head of product design and innovation at Sky, before confirming the satellite broadcaster will "be filming events in 3D."

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Sky has outlined its vision for the future of television at its head office in West London with the demo of 3DTV for the first time, spelling the need for yet another upgrade to your TV in the near future. Although the company admits the technology is unlikely to hit the living room any time soon, it is already getting ready for the move to 3D over 2D TV shows and events.

"We are already filming events in 3D", Lenz told.

The company's demo for the new technology currently shows a number of clips with a strong focus on sports such as boxing, football and rugby although films, documentaries and stage performances aren't out of the running.

"We still have to understand what consumers want", Chris Johns, chief engineer at Sky said before adding; "This isn't just a Sky endeavour".

In fact Sky is keen to point out that other companies around the world are getting involved too.

"Dreamworks has said every movie going forward will be available in 3D, while we know of around 63 movies that are planned over the next 2 - 3 years that will be 3D enabled".

Unlike current 3D systems from companies like Samsung that require you to wear special glasses that flicker to deceive you into believing you are watching a 3D image, the Sky system works on a passive stereoscopic 3D approach. To experience 3DTV you will need a new TV set that is "3D ready" and you'll still have to wear special glasses, however they will resemble something more akin to a pair of sunglasses rather than a gadget contraption with moving parts.

"A major manufacturer will be launching a stereoscopic 3D set in the next 12 months", said Lenz, before hinting that it might be "Sony at CES" later in our meeting.

The system, which requires new camera equipment to film on, works by setting the television as the "plain of field" like a window and then positioning certain elements in front of and behind that window. The result, with the glasses, is that you get a 3D effect no matter where you sit in the room. Take the glasses off and all the viewer will see is a blurry image.

"What we really want is a glasses free technology", says Lenz before reiterating that it's still very early days for the technology. "We aren't wedded to this technology, however what it does allow us to do is use our existing network to deliver the signal without expensive upgrades".

You get the feeling that Sky could go live today if there was a physical need for the technology, but without any TVs or content in the market it's not really commercially sensible and that's before you add the additional cost to the production of the film, event, or show. Sky estimate it will add a further 10-15% on the bottom line, a high price to pay in a credit crunch climate.

So should you hold off buying a new TV? Probably not, but it is worth bearing in mind that when you come to buy the next one in the next four to five year's time, 3DTV is likely to have hit the living room.

Sky's 3D system uses the existing Sky HD transmission path and a Sky+ HD box to receive the signal. However, content is filmed using two standard HD cameras in a special rig to get a stereoscopic effect; these two 16:9 pictures are then encoded by a special device early in the transmission chain such that the pictures from the left camera and right camera each take up half of a 16:9 frame.

This video is then sent through the existing Sky HD transmission path to a Sky+ HD box, which then outputs the picture to a special 3D-compatible television set. Such televisions have a special processor that takes the left and right image and interlaces them in a way that with the addition of a polarising filter in the set and polarising glasses being worn by viewers creates a natural 3D effect.

By Stuart Miles, Pocket-lint