Just four years since the launch of high-definition TV services in the UK, an entirely new technology is being unleashed on the viewing public: 3D.
BBC HD went live in time for the 2006 World Cup, while Sky launched a package of 10 channels in the HD format. It took until March 2009 for Sky to reach its first million HD customers, each paying an additional £10 per month, but by December more than 2m Sky homes were enjoying a package now featuring 37 HD channels.
The number is significant because Sky will be using the same Sky+ HD receivers for the launch of Sky 3D this April. It just has to convince the 14m homes that have bought an “HD Ready” set to return to the high street and pick up a 3D TV set instead.
Unlike HD, which attracted public, commercial and pay-TV broadcasters in equal measure, 3D is being led by a combination of pay-TV operators and, significantly, the TV manufacturers themselves.
Last December, Sony announced an agreement with football’s world governning body, Fifa, to capture up to 25 World Cup matches in 3D, taking advantage of Sony’s work in the area spanning 3D cameras to domestic TV sets. The matches will form the backbone of the sport’s entertainment company ESPN’s new 3D channel in the US, though it is still unclear whether any live 3D rights will be made available in the UK.
Premier League football was a key part of Sky’s 3D tests in the run-up to its live broadcast to nine pubs on January 31 (see panel). The trial will be extended when Sky 3D goes live in April, followed by a consumer rollout in the second half of the year. However, the precise date has not yet been set, while Sky awaits the availability of the full range of screens.
“We want people to enjoy the 3D experience in pubs so that they get an idea of what it is like ahead of the launch of the TVs into the market,” says Brian Lenz, Sky’s director of product design. “It’s not going to be 24 hours of brand new 3D content a week, it’s going to be around building several shows across the range of genres at some key points of time to create appointments to view.”
Both the BBC and ITV have expressed an interest in developing 3D content. Media regulator Ofcom commissioned a report from the consultancy, Zetacast, that concluded improvements in compression could make terrestrial 3D a possibility by 2020.
Meanwhile, the BBC is considering a small number of 3DTV editorial experiments in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics, with the aim of exploring “the creative potential of the new format, evaluate the different technology options and help us contribute to the standardisation process”.
Channel 4, which last autumn ran a 3D week using the relatively old-fashioned Danish ColorCode glasses, says it is “not currently looking at” the 3D format, although the centrepiece of the schedule, The Queen in 3D, has become a hit for distributor Digital Rights Group (DRG).
The company has established 3DRG, managed by Justin Judd, managing director of DRG’s digital arm, i-Rights, to explore the genre further. “We’re looking to build a catalogue that has value in the future rather than just short-term opportunities,” says Judd.
He is talking to various broadcasters around the world that are looking for 3D content, though he admits the market will be smaller for the first 12 to 18 months. “There will be a market of sorts but there is a dearth of content, so we are looking for as much as we can to be able to service that requirement while building a catalogue that has a longer-term value.”
Adam May, a producer with Vision3, is equally conscious of the need to build content outside the sports field. “Sport has a very limited lifespan, and Sky is going to be running a 24-hour channel, so there are a lot of airtime opportunities over the next few years. We would intentionally film content that doesn’t date.”
Sky is also leaving the door open for third-party broadcasters and in the next few weeks will publish its requirements for other 3D channels to sit side by side on its new platform.
The Guardian, March 1, 2010