The Truth about 3D TV, Part 3

Stereoscopic television must exist within the broadcast and other delivery systems infrastructures.  Stereoscopic TV developers can’t reinvent the wheel.  There are pipelines that transmit the signal to your home and they must remain in place without change.  They can be terrestrial, they can be disc-based, they can be from the Internet, they can be from cable, or whatever – even on means for getting a signal to a handheld device.  If the world is going to have stereoscopic television, and it’s going to be commercially successful, it’s going to have to fit within the bandwidth of those pipelines and it’s going to have to have similar characteristics to the 2-D (planar) signal, or all bets are off in terms of having a commercial product.

If you want to play a stereoscopic movie with your Blu-ray, it has to be a normal unmodified Blu-ray player.  If you want to transmit stereoscopic images and pick them up on your Roku box from Netflix, it has to follow whatever protocol is agreeable to such an IPTV, and so on and so forth for cable and the like. If you want to broaden the discussion to what may become increasingly important markets like handheld devices for watching television shows, or laptops or the like, then you come to the realization that there will not be one standard way of transmitting a signal – there will be many.  

So we have entered, without mentioning the word, the realm of compatibility.  A stereoscopic television signal has to be compatible with the broadcast and content delivery infrastructure before you can make a good business case for it.  Another kind of compatibility would be a kind of transparency.  So far we have said that the stereoscopic television signal has to be in essence backwardly or downwardly compatible with the existing pipes, but it might need to be compatible in the sense that it can play on a normal television set without having a scrambled image.  I’ll call that backward compatibility with display transparency.  If we recall what happened when NTSC color television was introduced, it was mandated that color television had to be compatible with black-and-white television sets insofar as the color signal had to play on a black-and-white set and look just fine – and ingenious means were found to achieve that.  But when NTSC color television was introduced there were only about a dozen channels available, so with the lack of content delivery variety it was imperative that the signal be transparent and downwardly compatible in the sense of transparency.  And there weren’t even VCR’s. 

But does that apply today?  In an age in which we have multiple content delivery sources and hundreds of cable channels, does backward compatibility/transparency matter?  Remember, a disc has two sides, and people have already used both sides of the disc, for example, for encoding Scope on one side and 1.85:1 on the other.  

The more one considers stereoscopic television, the more absorbingly complicated the problem becomes.  There are technology complications, but there are also business complications because anybody entering the field has to ask themselves how they are going to make money from their efforts.  I have already indicated that in the transition to hi-def the broadcaster were not able to monetize their additional expenditures.  In plain English, they weren’t able to charge more.  They won’t be able to charge advertisers any more for stereoscopic television, but they’re going to have to equip for stereoscopic television or fall behind.  And the public may have to pay more for stereoscopic television just as they’ve paid more for high-definition television.  But will the public be willing to do that?  We’re still engaged in the transition from analog to digital (obviously that is rapidly ending and everything is going to be digital), and from digital to hi-def.  One could make the argument that we need a high-definition platform before we can move forward.  After all, digital is the basis for high-definition, and high-definition will be the basis for the stereoscopic medium.  So there has to be adequate acceptance or penetration of true high-definition on the part of broadcasters, the public, and anybody who delivers content.  Right now few people have true hi def TV sets, and maybe 40% have flat panels.  So wither goest 3D TV?

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