A relative paucity of 3D content has frequently been cited as one of the main reasons why sales of 3D TV sets have struggled to take off. It’s logical: no one would be willing to spend money on an extra-dimensional television if there’s precious little material to watch in 3D, especially when the expensive prices and obligatory 3D glasses are taken into account. A move by an influential TV broadcaster – such as the BBC in the United Kingdom – to start beaming 3D material at no extra costs to consumers will undoubtedly boost 3DTV uptake, but unfortunately the BBC has no plans at the moment to invest in 3D programming due to 3D TV’s hazy outlook.
Speaking to bi-monthly digital publication New Television Insider, BBC’s head of distribution technology Graham Plumb confirmed the broadcasting organisation’s stance of not rushing into 3D until the situation about differing 3D delivery formats (frame-compatible vs service-compatible; satellite vs terrestrial; etc.) becomes clearer.
Earlier in 2010, British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) chose to go with the frame-compatible route to deliver limited 3D content on its Sky 3D channel which is tagged onto the company’s high-definition (HD) satellite platform. This way, the separate images intended for the left and the right eyes can be transmitted side-by-side to viewers without the need to physically upgrade their existing Sky HD set-top boxes.
However, in a recent EBU (European Broadcasting Union) survey, some terrestrial TV broadcasters raised the possibility of utilising the service-compatible method to deliver 3D content. Similar to how HD content is transmitted terrestrially, a service-compatible format means that extra 3D information is added to standard-def transmissions, which would take up less bandwidth compared to the format-compatible method.
Of course, trying to squeeze additional 3D video signals into the already-cramped terrestrial TV system is not going to be easy at all. While adding another HD channel to the soon-to-be quadruplet of BBC HD, ITV HD, Channel 4 HD and BBC1 HD within the current multiplex may be possible due to continuous improvements in encoding technology, finding space to accommodate a 3D signal is going to be a significant challenge.