Set-Top's Guide Pops Into 3-D


Get ready for TV listings that jump into your lap.

Set-top middleware vendor Nagravision last week showed off the first example of a set-top guide created specifically for 3-D stereoscopic viewing. While it's likely to be years before cable or other TV providers offer 3-D television services and programming on a broad scale, Switzerland-based Nagravision is trying to get ahead of the curve on the technology.

“We felt it was the right time to introduce a media guide in 3-D to show operators and partners what a 3-D interface would look like,” said Frank Dreyer, Nagravision's global team lead of consumer-electronics creative. “In the same way we built products for HD, we want to lead customers into the 3-D TV world.”

According to Dreyer, one thing the Nagravision team learned early on is that viewers need to have “an immersive experience” in 3-D mode. That means all controls and visual elements, such as volume and on-screen program information, need to be in 3-D stereoscopic format.

“It's a very unnerving experience when you use 2-D graphics in a 3-D environment. It breaks the illusion,” Dreyer said.

Nagravision unveiled the prototype last week at Amsterdam's IBC 2009 trade show and also showed it at the 3-D Entertainment Summit in Los Angeles. The demonstrations featured content produced by 3ality Digital, a 3-D video production company, including U2 concert footage and highlights from the National Football League's Super Bowl XXXVIII.

The Nagra Media Guide for 3-D was running on a PC, using an implementation of Adobe Systems' Flash Media system. But Dreyer said the enhanced guide doesn't require a “super-charged” set-top: “You just need engineers who know what they're doing.”

The middleware company used 3ality's Burbank, Calif., studio to develop the three-dimensional screen elements. “We were able to take 3-D video, throw our EPG [electronic program guide] on top of it, and evaluate the subtle differences for mastering graphics in 3-D,” Dreyer said.

Nagravision's three-dimensional guide is able to support the two main types of 3-D glasses and display technologies: polarized (which creates a stereoscopic image by restricting the light that reaches each eye) and active shutter (which open and close special shutters in synch with the screen's refresh rate).

In creating the 3-D prototype, Nagravision found it couldn't use certain graphical elements that are part of conventional guides, such as transparency. The placement of elements on the screen is also an issue; for example, it's jarring if you're watching a football game and the channel guide suddenly cuts off the tops of the players' heads, Dreyer noted.

“There are subtle rules on how you achieve the 3-D experience,” he said.