Cable's Two 3-D TV World's Firsts

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In case you missed it (I did), the home team achieved two world's firsts last month, when it comes to getting 3-D content into consumer homes.

Both occurred during the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, in a tucked-away CableLabs corner tagged the “3-D Pavilion.”

World's first No. 1: Sending and displaying two 3-D TV channels and 3-D VOD simultaneously over Comcast's plant. The 3-D signal was decoded by existing set-tops. Until then, 3-D vendors brought their own demos, tricked out to make their gear look as good as possible.

The material was 3-D-encoded at the Comcast Media Center, using the “over-under” method. That means squeezing the right-eye and left-eye frames on top of one another, within the same digital channel. An assortment of compression rates and resolutions were sampled — some 720p/60 frames, some 1080p/24 frames.

World's first No. 2: Connecting multiple brands of 3-D TVs to the same signal, at the same time. Or, put another way, the coexistence of passive and shutter glasses, on the same 3-D signal.

Here's why that matters: Different brands of 3-D TVs use different types of eyewear — both “active” (shuttered) glasses, and “passive” (polarized) glasses. Up until now, confusion reigned about whether the same incoming signal could feed TVs that use different types of glasses.

Answer: Apparently so. The demonstration made clear that 3-D signals don't require special formatting for one type of eyewear vs. another. The 3-D TVs can resolve those differences internally.

Closing observation: The progress this year in 3-D TV for home use is astonishing. What seemed a “five years out” thing now seems much, much more imminent.

What's needed now (in a huge oversimplification): 3-D content.

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