3DTV: No Tech Windfall

The TV industry’s mad dash into the third dimension won’t lead to a boom in sales of video-delivery equipment. The burst of 3DTV activity includes such events as last week’s The Masters golf tournament, carried in 3D by Comcast and other operators, as well as this summer’s scheduled launches of ESPN 3D and DirecTV’s dedicated 3D channels.

However, while 3DTV is expected to be popular for certain kinds of content — primarily movies and sporting events — the rise of the format “will have little impact on how operators spend to deliver 3D content,” according to Infonetics Research analyst Jeff Heynen.

That’s because cable and satellite providers, at least initially, are delivering three-dimensional video in a “frame compatible” format that takes up the same amount of space as a regular HD stream — and is therefore treated by video-delivery equipment exactly as if it were any other HD signal.

For example, Comcast has carried The Masters in 3D as an MPEG-2 stream at 18.75 Megabits per second, similar to the bandwidth allocated for live sports programming in HD.

Any 3DTV growth will represent a continuation of the upgrades required to deliver more HD, such as additional edge quadrature amplitude modulation devices for cable operators, Heynen added. By contrast, the move to deliver high definition programming required a much bigger investment for new HD-capable receivers and encoders.

Case in point: DirecTV will use its existing HD encoders from Harmonic — which it has bought over the last three years — to launch three dedicated 3DTV channels in June. On the set-top side, DirecTV will release a software upgrade for the boxes to recognize 3D content and pass it to the TV.

By Todd Spangler, Multichannel