Sky 3DTV

Sky has announced that it will broadcast 3D TV in the UK in 2010. It's an exciting prospect, so we visited Sky studios to see what 3D TV may have to offer.

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Films and even TV programmes being shown in 3D isn't new, but Sky is promising to bring it to our living rooms on a grander scale from next year. Sky 3D TV is certainly creating a lot of interest with viewers, and from our first-look hands-on test the 3D broadcasts we saw at Sky were impressive. Which? watched demo footage of ballerinas, sprinter Usain Bolt, football, Ricky Hatton boxing and the indie rock band Keane playing at Abbey Road studios, all shown in Sky 3DTV.

The footage we saw was likely designed to show Sky 3D TV in its best possible light, but the overall impression we had was positive. While the 3D effect of the material we watched gave a real perspective to the picture, we did notice that the images had a slight pop-up book appearance at times. Objects in the foreground looked like they had been cut out and brought forward, so you’re never going to be convinced that you’re really part of the action.

Although the seat right in front of the Sky 3D TV offered the best viewing angle, we found that side-on viewing angles were also pretty good. We noticed that volume control was severely blurred when it popped up on the screen, but this is only a minor mechanical issue and should be easily ironed out before the service launches.

What I need to watch Sky 3D TV?
Sky told us that its 3D TV service will be launched in 2010, but couldn’t be more specific about the date or how you’ll need to subscribe. You will need a Sky+ HD box to access the service (existing boxes will work). You’ll have to update your television to a 3D model and get yourself a pair of 3D glasses. There is talk about fashion house Gucci working on a pair of 3D specs and prescriptive 3D glasses are also in the pipeline.

TV manufacturers including JVC, LG and Sony are working on 3DTV sets, some of which are due to arrive on the market in 2010. Sky said that you can watch Sky 3D TV on a 26-inch screen, but the larger the screen, the better the results.

Sky 3D TV content
It’s unlikely that the service will be available 24 hours a day to begin with and Sky said that it will be selective about what is filmed and broadcast in 3D, as the technology should only be used when it can somehow enhance a TV programme. According to Sky, sport and entertainment programmes would benefit from 3D TV coverage, as many viewers would like to feel as though they’re really watching a match or a concert in a stadium. Arts programmes may also benefit, particularly those that look at sculpture and architecture. We watched a ballet filmed at Greenwich Observatory and it looked impressive.

Does 3D TV cause headaches?
Critics of 3D TV and 3D cinema reckon that the 3D effect can induce headaches and even motion sickness. Sky says that 3D programmes historically suffered from the fact it is an emerging technology, and that instead of attempting to make the image leap out of the screen and into your living room, the screen should ‘act like a window looking into a 3D world’.

Sky also blamed historical flaws in 3D TV on traditional 2D filming methods. Depth, movement, panning and zoom all need to be considered in a new way when shooting 3D, Sky explained, and individual shots need to last longer than the fast-paced sequences we are used to with regular TV. When it's done right, Sky said, you can watch hours of 3D TV without getting a headache. We did not experience any ill effects from our time viewing Sky 3D TV.

How does Sky 3D TV work?
Sky 3D TV is filmed with two cameras instead of one, as though the action is being seen through a pair of eyes. The two clips are then synched (this is easier with digital tapes than with analogue film) and then broadcast as a regular TV signal. The Sky box receives the signals and sends them to the 3D TV. The 3D TV then plays both on a single channel, with one image on the left, the other on the right. By pressing the 3D TV button on the remote control, the TV changes the way the clips are displayed. In simple terms, the left camera's footage is played on the odd lines that make up a TV picture and the right camera's footage is played on the even lines.

The two images are then polarised by the 3D TV’s special panel so that after being filtered by the 3D glasses, your left eye sees only the left camera's footage and your right eye sees only the right camera's footage – without the 3D glasses the two layered images appear blurred. As two images occupy the screen, resolution is halved, so a 1920 x 1080 HDTV would show 3D TV in 960 x 540 resolution.

Sky 3D TV verdict
We were all impressed by the clips that we saw, and if Sky's 3D TV package follows in the footsteps of its high-definition packages, it could see significant success. Although we haven't tested any 3D TVs in our labs yet, our TV research is second-to-none, so if you're looking to buy a new LCD or plasma TV, you should use our in-depth TV reviews. When 3D TVs hit the market, we'll update our test program.

Source: Which?