CableLabs Promotes Expanded 3D Testing

As part of a plan to help the cable industry rapidly deploy 3D technologies, CableLabs is offering manufacturers of 3D television sets free interoperability testing to ensure they work with existing set-top boxes and other parts of the industry's infrastructure.

"We want to get the attention of a wider array of set-top makers and TV manufacturers to alert them to the fact that we are offering this service," said CableLabs vice president of consumer video technology David Broberg. "Currently, there is no charge and it is just a matter of scheduling time in the lab."

The push to get more set manufacturers into CableLabs' 3D testing facility, which opened last summer, is important for cable operators looking to deploy three-dimensional content quickly to compete with DirecTV's plans to launch 3DTV this summer.

"Currently, there are no [set-top box] products in the field that support the latest HDMI 1.4 standard for 3D," Broberg explained. "So in order to carry 3D through existing set-tops, we have to use the existing HDMI capacity. We've been testing that functionality with a TV sets to see what interoperability issues might exist and looking at the various 3D formats that might be used in the cable delivery system," to make sure they can work on the existing infrastructure.

At the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in October, CableLabs demonstrated technology showing that 3D signals using frame compatible formats could be delivered over existing cable plant to newer HD set-top boxes and 3D capable sets. Frame compatible formats deliver the left and right signals needed for 3D images over one high definition stream.

The test also showed that the signal could be sent using a variety of compression schemes and that it could handle different formats using different types of glasses.

"Many" HD set-tops already deployed in cable homes can handle frame compatible 3D signals, said Broberg, though he admitted it is impossible to say how many such boxes have been deployed or which proportion of existing set-tops they compose.

"Our focus is to get representative examples of every box that operators are deploying now or have been for putting out in the last 18 to 24 months and test them," Broberg said. "We are not going back 10 years to test boxes."

By ensuring those newer boxes work with 3D sets, CableLabs believes operators will be able to quickly deploy 3D services.

"As the consumer buys a 3D TV, they will get the latest box" that will work with 3D signals, said CableLabs CEO Paul Liao. "We've found today's cable system is flexible enough for the delivery of 3D TV signals" over cable's existing video on demand and switched digital video infrastructure and that those signals can be handled by newer HD set-top boxes that are already in the field.

The ability of VOD and switched digital to handle 3D signals is important for early 3D deployments. A growing number of theatrical films are produced in 3D; those films would make ideal candidates for paid on-demand offerings that could be marketed to early buyers of the 3D sets that were announced earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show.

"Having the on-demand platform gives us an advantage in the launch of 3D, compared to where we were 10 years ago with the start of HD," Broberg said. "On-demand is a good way to launch a service and the on-demand platform is very efficient in terms of bandwidth."

CableLabs is working with a variety of other organizations on standards and they are examining the longer-term prospect of deploying more advanced 3D formats that offer higher resolutions and more spectacular 3D effects with up to 1080p resolution for each eye, the executive said. 3D systems that require two HD signals -- one for each eye -- can not be handled by current set-top boxes.

"The objective is over time to really raise the quality of picture by increasing spatial resolution as well as the temporal resolution and the frame rate," Broberg said.

By George Winslow, Multichannel