3D Motivates Comcast to Think MPEG-4

The FIFA World Cup featured on the ESPN 3D channel is the source of all the recent buzz. Carriers of the new 3D sports channel include Comcast, AT&T's U-verse and DirecTV. Whether a customer’s provider is cable, telco or satellite, viewers must own a 3D TV and glasses, but Comcast customers have an additional hurdle to jump: They also must have an MPEG-4 set-top box.

If a customer calls us and says they have a 3D TV and want to watch the World Cup, we'll provide them with an MPEG-4 set-top, said Mark Francisco, a Comcast Fellow, yesterday at a meeting of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the SCTE in Denver.

Francisco said Comcast has about 10 million MPEG-4 set-tops in the field. "3D is going to be the first MPEG-4 service that Comcast launches," he noted, adding there are some 25 million deployed set-tops capable only of MPEG-2.

According to Francisco, ESPN 3D is now available in MPEG-2 and MPEG-4, but in August, Comcast is planning to "switch the firmware that allows MPEG-4 to work. We can change our broadcast to MPEG-4," adding, "Those (MPEG-4) boxes are always associated with HD households. The vast majority are DVRs."

And the MPEG-4 set-tops are mostly Motorola boxes, he said.

News reports this week say Comcast has chosen U.K.-based Pace for its next major set-top box platform that will incorporate the Intel Media Processor CE 3100 and will be Tru2way-capable. In addition, the Pace boxes will support two HD 1080i video streams in MPEG-4 H.264.

According to Comcast's FAQ page, "Carrying 3D content in MPEG-4 format allows for greater efficiency with our network capacity, and will allow us to add even more 3D content going forward, both for linear channels and OnDemand content."

In addition to MPEG-4 compression, Francisco also mentioned switched digital video (SDV) as a way to more efficiently manage bandwidth resources for more 3D video in the future. Currently, 3D on cable basically is half resolution, and offering full-resolution 3D will require more bandwidth.

By Linda Hardesty, Cable360