Q&A: CableLabs' Dick Green on HD's Future

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In the second part of
a two-part interview, Richard Green, the departing longtime president and CEO
of CableLabs
, talks with HD Update's
George Winslow about the next generation of HD technologies and some of his
organization's work in that area. An edited transcript follows.

MCN: What are some of the key things CableLabs
has been doing to help the industry prepare for the next generation of high-definition
television?

Richard Green: We
are focused on finding technologies that advantage the cable industry and, in
terms of HD, one of the major areas is, of course, 3-D, which we've been
working on now for about 18 months. We're looking at it on all three levels -- capture,
transmission and display.

It is a very interesting project, because there is kind of
chaos right now. People are proposing dozens of different transmission schemes,
which reminds me of the earlier proposals for high-def.

The transmission side is particularly interesting to us because
we would like to be one of the first carriers of 3-D. Having a transmission
standard would be very useful because then the set manufacturers can build
displays.

We're also looking at production, which is quite
complicated. There are lots of things you have to think about when you're doing
capture for 3-D and it is a difficult process. There are only a handful of
people who really know how to do this, and they mostly come from the film world
and animation, which has really been the leading 3-D product.

The truth is that there is good 3-D and bad 3-D, and
producing good 3-D is hard. It takes a lot of skill, and we'd like the cable
industry and our programmers to be have some leadership role in that. Right
now, those who are connected to the film industry have a leg up on us.

MCN: How do you see some of the transmission
efforts developing for 3D?

RG: There is a
whole bunch of schemes. One is, you put the picture in the middle and you put
the left eye on the left side and the right on the right side and when it gets
to the TV sets, the set knows to expand those into an 3-D image. You can also do
that vertically, with the left eye at the top and the right picture.

If you do it this way, it can be processed by high-definition
gear. It has the advantage of being the least expensive way because it doesn't
change your production processing equipment. But it has the disadvantage of sacrificing
resolution because you are only getting half the resolution for each eye.

So you have one camp that says, "Let's make it compatible
with our existing capture chain," and another camp that says, "We need to find
a way to do this with full resolution for each eye."

The extreme position for doing that is with two channels,
one for each eye, which uses a lot of bandwidth. But you don't really need to
do that because there is a lot of redundancy between those two pictures. If you
use a compression scheme that compares the two eyes, you can take advantage of
the redundancies, much like you do with MPEG, and you can get the bandwidth
down to about 1.5 times the size of a regular channel.

I think the first standards for home use will probably be based
on Blu-ray. All the studios are very interested in getting 3D products in the
home on Blu-ray. It would require a special player and special TV sets and how
soon they will be in the market will depend a lot on the set manufacturers; but
a lot of them are rushing to get something out, not for Christmas this year,
but maybe Christmas next year.

Obviously, we haven't decided which way to go and we working
with our members to pick the best path.

MCN: How do you think cable will find the additional
bandwidth needed for 3-D and for higher-quality HD programming?

RG: The knight on
a white horse for doing more HD is going more and more digital because that
frees up the bandwidth. As the analog reclamation goes forward, it gives us the
capacity to carry these things.

There are also a lot of technologies beyond analog
reclamation that we could deploy -- MPEG-4, variable rate encoding, etc. -- to
recover more bandwidth as we need it, which will come in stages.

The first generation of 3-D for example, could be done in a
single HD channel. It doesn't require a lot of bandwidth but as we move to
higher and higher standards, they will require bandwidth.

The next generation is 4K, which is what they use to
electronically capture movies. It has four times the resolution of existing
high-def.

But there are a lot of things you can do before you move to
4K that will improve quality. You can get more out of the existing MPEG
standards as well, and that will make it possible deliver a higher-quality
picture using extant standards. That is very interesting and I'm sure that will
come before the 4K. People are very sensitive to quality and that is an area we
want to lead.

MCN : In the U.K., cable operator Virgin Media
plans to test 3-D and higher-resolution HD content over a new Data Over Cable
Service Interface Specification 3.0 system that has speeds of 200 Mpbs. Does
DOCSIS 3.0 offer a way to deliver more HD content?

RG: Sure. One of the great strengths of the cable
industry is that we have multiple transmission paths. There are strengths and
weaknesses to either path. But the good thing about cable is that you have
multiple choices about how you go about delivering the product, and people are
certainly thinking about using the DOCSIS channel as well.

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