Las Vegas, NV–At NAB 2010, EBU deputy director David Wood gathered together a panel to discuss the prospects of a worldwide 3D standard. If you wish to read no farther, the bottom line conclusion, as wryly put by Motorola senior director of advanced technology Ajay Luthra was:  “No time soon, if we engineers have anything to do with it.”

Wood first introduced Rick Dean, chairman of 3D@home consortium, who noted that the consortium does not set standards but rather provides information to standards-setting bodies. “3D impacts many steps in the workflow from creation to distribution, storage, transmission, displays, image processing, components, labs, associations, and so on,” Dean pointed out. “It’s impossible to do it all at once.”

All these sectors are (mostly) inter-dependent, continued Dean. “A lot of the work is being done in parallel with one another,” he said. “These will progress in parallel.”

Dean noted that 3D content included original 3D titles, live 3D sports and events and 3D conversions, distributed via BluRay, Internet, satellite and other existing infrastructure. “3D conversion is a hot topic now and it will be a part of our everyday lives,” he said. “We use a lot of legacy content from the archive to integrate with the new 3D content.”

At the same time, tools for content creation must evolve. “3D production is not new but also not refined,” he said. ” Best practices to set up and maintain the post environment have not been well documented and made available to the industry.”

“We’re working on common tests and benchmarks to quantify processes and equipment,” he said. “Compatibility and interoperability is job #1. How do we achieve high quality content and educate at all levels of the supply chain?”

“One single format makes total sense,” he concluded. “But bandwidth and the market will decide what happens.  Let’s just keep focusing on the consumer experience.”

The next speak was Ted Szypulski, who is senior director, technology, research & standards for ESPN 3D and a member of the SMPTE 10E40 Working Group on the 3D Home Master. “I often get asked – will this stick?,” joked Szypulski. “I don’t know, but for me it’s something to be employed about, which is good in this economy.”

The SMPTE 10E40WG, which came into being in November 2009, is the  first group in SMPTE to work on 3D standards.  There are 132 members in this group, from content creators, broadcast equipment manufacturers, distribution providers, consumer electronics manufacturers and others.  Szypulski noted that their work  does not include distribution formats and technologies. “We are not dealing with standards for delivery to the home, but standards for the master that can be interchanged with other 3D content creators and those who distribute the material meant to go to the home,” he explained. “From our work statement, we will generate specifications for the 3D home master for the carriage of 3D content between mastering facilities and the ingest facility of a distribution system.”

Within the Working Group are four Ad Hoc group: Image Format, which is concerned with the allowed characteristics for the image; Metadata, which looks at what descriptive data is required or optional and what  the schema is; Subtitles and captions; and Graphics Overlay, which focuses on what is needed for downstream bugs and set top TV graphics to be properly inserted.

Szypulski also pointed out that a “master” means something very different from the viewpoint of the cinema industry and the broadcast  industry, and brought up issues such as compressiong and how the Z axis is going to be conveyed in production and whether it should be included in the master. “In broadcasting at ESPN where we deal with live programming, nothing has never been compressed in the professional space, even before it reaches you in the home,” he said. “If that’s the case, why should I fluff it back up to 4x its size? It doesn’t make sense. We’re working through whether compression would be allowed in the master.”

“We’re developing our vocabulary as we’re developing our knowledge, which is hard to do when the words are new,” he added. “You can have an argument and then realize you’re not even talking about the same thing.” Draft documents from the Ad Hoc groups  will be sent to the Working Group by Summer 2010.

Szypulski also touched on the definition of  “frame compatible” distribution, noting the many ways to accomplish this:  Top and Bottom; side by side; frame sequential;  row or column interleaving; and checkerboard approach or quincunx among them. “You pick your poison and what you’ll lose,” he said, noting that this issue is not among those to be addressed by the Working Group because it has to do with distribution formats.

Motorola senior director of advanced technology Ajay Luthra  compared the question of whether or not there can be a worldwide 3D TV standard to a more recent event in the U.S. “That question is like asking can Democrats and Republicans agree on a common healthcare bill,” he said. “You know the answer.  And this problem is harder than that.”

Luthra noted that end-to-end video systems are broken down into capture, mastering, distribution/broadcasting and video display. “Today there is a decoupling between all these areas, because each of them has developed,” he said. “The same decoupling we think will happen in 3D TV.”

In the near term (2010) it is good to keep things simple with half-resolution or frame compatible 3D.  But in the medium term (2011/12), said Luthra, we will migrate to full resolution HD (1920x1080x30i or 24p or 1280x720x60p per eye).

“Then the pressure will come for long term to  migrate to full 108i0p60 per eye,” he added. “And then there are some of us who believe god meant us to see in 4Kx2K.”

“Please keep buying these set top boxes and TVs,” he said. “We need to send our kids to school.”

In near term, said Luthra we are happy thibgns are converging on MPEG-4/AVC/H.264. (“We couldn’t agree on calling it one thing so good luck on agreeing on one standard,” he noted.)

People are already asking for MPEG-2, so of course that will also happen. But is   backwards compatibility needed?  Do you want a 3D system to be viewed by a 2D TV? These are just some of the questions that will arise as the systems evolve.

But compression is only part of the issue. “Distribution for TV involves more than compression and decompression,” said Luthra. “It also involves rendering 2D graphics: on screen display, closed caption, program guide, and so on.”

Then there is the “button” issue. “There are too many buttons to push on remote controls,” he said. “You have to push buttons eight times to get it to work on the STB and 3D TV. I was told that you lose 50 percent of your audience when they have to push one button, so after eight, there will only be 1 percent left.”

Today’s solution for “a proper rendering of 2D graphics” uses AVC frame packing SEI to allow automatic detection of 3D format at the set-top box,” he said. “And use of HDMI 1.4a signaling over 1.3 allows automatic synchronization of the set-top box and 3D TV.” So,  no button pushing, one problem solved, for the meantime. But this is where Luthra said answered the question if there can be one single worldwide 3DTV broadcasting standard with a thumbs-down. “Not any time soon…if we engineers have anything to do with it,” he said.

EBU deputy director David Wood is leading the DVB Projectwith David Daniel of BSkyB. “We’re working on the commercial requirements and the document is being finalized for the Phase 1 system,” he said. “” The technical specification has begun. Should be completed later this year.

EBU is in two R&D projects, looking at Multiview a 2nd generation 3D TV and 3D VIVANT to investigate 2.5 generation 3D TV.

What is the ITU-R doing with 3D TV? They produced a report, said Wood.

Two critical issues that must be addressed are eye comfort and the impact of the HDMI Formats. “The main problem is viewers need to separate pointing and focusing and a proportion of the public finds it difficult to do and suffers from eye discomfort,” he said.  “We don’t know enough about how many or if it impacts young people.”

Wood ended with a question not that much different from the one he started with: “Will we have common standards?,” he asked again. “Is anyone in the driving seat or is it just the kids in the back giving orders?”