3DTV Right Now is an Engineers' Challenge

On a searingly hot sunny day in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, Orange welcomed a group of French and British journalists to its pavilion within the sponsors village of the tournament. Over lunch we heard from Raoul Roverato, Executive Vice-President of New Growth Businesses at Orange and winner of the Outstanding Industry Contribution award at this year's IPTV World Series Awards ceremony.

Although this is not the first year in which Orange has broadcast 3D coverage of the French Open, the launch of a dedicated channel for 3DTV on its IPTV platform (delivered via DSL and fibre) marks a crystallising of opinion within Orange management that the technology will be Big News, and that it is starting to catch up with operators' aspirations.

Acknowledging that 3DTV is at present an engineering challenge, Mr. Roverato revealed that delivery of 3D content to consumers requires about the same line speed as HDTV - in the case of Orange TV, around 8 Mbps - and that delivery of high-definition 3DTV is only possible with the higher downstream speeds facilitated by fibre connections.

Regarding other potential markets for a 3DTV channel, Mr. Roverato indicated that Poland could be the next country to see such a launch, and while he does not expect this to happen this year, the Euro 2012 football tournament in Poland and the Ukraine could be the perfect launch event for such a channel, he said.

When asked how long he believed it would take for 3DTV to become mainstream, he suggested that this could be at least five years away, adding that at present the new 3DTV channel on Orange TV is more of a marketing initiative, used to show the platform's potential and accustom consumers to the idea of watching content in 3D. However, Orange is already investing a few million euros each year in commissioning and delivering 3D content, and 40% of top-end televisions now have the capability to deliver 3D, he said, suggesting that it is already starting to become a reality.

With a content business that is growing in the double digits each year, and a stated aim to be more than just a utility to its customers, Orange appears to be one of the few IPTV operators worldwide to be taking 3DTV seriously enough to be putting it into operation now, rather than adopting a "wait and see" approach.

An afternoon tour behind the scenes of the tournament's production facilities gave a chance to see the production process of content for the Orange sports channels, and to experience the new 3D channel.

Thanks to the new Panasonic 3D cameras which Orange recently took delivery of (and proudly showed to the journalists present), the 3D aspect gave a striking sensation of depth to the content, using passive glasses. Picture definition appeared crisp, colour fidelity true, and high-speed action was easy to follow - handy when Serena Williams was powering up her first serve.

Then followed a tour of the production truck where live content for the channels is mixed - crammed full of screens, mixing desks and their operators, the task appeared incredibly complex, with a 3DTV screen nestling in amongst all the other 2D feeds (middle left in the below picture):

While many in the pay-TV industry are sceptical that 3D will become the norm any time soon (high-definition has still not fully supplanted standard-definition, after all), the overriding impression given was that the technology required for filming, distributing and displaying content in 3D is already present - in France at least. Whether that one 3D screen nestling within the bank of 2D screens in the production truck eventually becomes many, only time will tell.

Source: IPTV News