ESPN Wants Discreet Left/Right 3D for Affiliates

Frame Compatible 3DTV is the technology of choice for delivering 3D content to customer homes, whether over satellite, cable or IPTV, because it is effectively an HDTV signal that can therefore use HD encoders and set-top boxes. It looks as if Frame Compatible will be around for some time for direct-to-home broadcasting so attempts to advance 3D technology will happen first in the contribution segment.

We reported previously how GlobeCast handled contribution of live 3D games from the FIFA World Cup in South Africa recently. Contribution from the stadia to the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) was performed as separate left eye and right eye streams using JPEG2000 compression and feeds out of the country (via satellite) were in side-by-side Frame Compatible format using MPEG-2 HD.

Simon Farnsworth, Global Head of Contribution at GlobeCast, expects the broadcast contribution market to evolve so that it uses simultaneous left eye and right eye contribution signals, synchronized for live content. And that is exactly what ESPN, the US sports broadcast network, is already doing today with its ESPN 3D channel, which launched in June and is available in the US via DIRECTV (satellite), Comcast (cable) and AT&T (IPTV).

According to Jon Pannaman, Senior Director Technology at ESPN, the company is using discrete left and right eye HD signals from its event locations to its main broadcast facility in Bristol, Connecticut. This requires the use of specialist encoders and decoders with left/right eye feed synchronisation. The company is then transforming the dual HD feed into a Frame Compatible signal for transport to its distribution partners.

Pannaman points out that delivering Frame Compatible 3D content to a distribution partner (like a platform operator) means they can simply pass the signal through without adjustments. However, ESPN wants to move another step forward and reach the point where it is delivering discrete left and right HD feeds all the way to its partners.

Pannaman told Videonet recently: “We want to deliver discrete left and right feeds to our affiliates as soon as it is practical. Obviously some technology is needed for that so it is not imminent but it is our goal. That way the different delivery methods affiliates could use will be supported. For business reasons people will want to do different things. We cannot supply every possible variant so our goal is to get them the best quality [discrete feeds] that they can then use.”

Effectively, delivering discrete HD left and right feeds is viewed as the raw materials from which distribution partners can create their own Frame Compatible output or move towards any of the ‘full HD 3DTV’ compression solutions that are currently being talked about. The key point is that the format supplied by ESPN will not force anybody to compromise what they are doing further down the chain.

ESPN 3D offers 3D sports programming and went on air with the opening game of the FIFA World Cup finals, then broadcast 25 3D matches from South Africa including the final. A key principle for the channel is that it shows 3D content or nothing at all (except a 3D ‘slate’). There are no 2D fillers. ESPN 3D is effectively a live events network today.

By John Moulding, Videonet