3D TV is NOT a Set Top Box Running a 3D Graphics UI

What BSkyB Started:  It seems all of Europe is buzzing with the hopes of seeing actual 3D content on their telly next year based on the BSkyB announcement in July that it will launch Europe’s first 3D TV channel programming in 2010.  The frenzy was further stoked by the Guardian Newspaper’s “Question of the Week” asking readers “Will 3D TV be a Hit?” So the new buzz word in the television industry must be “3D”.

Mob Mentality: Yes, 3D TV has been anointed in the press as the next killer app. Guaranteed to wipe out all other types of programming. Driving hoards of customers to their local struggling retailer, waiving fists full of cash (or debit cards) screaming for new 3D TV sets to see all of their favorite shows in 3D.

How Can STB Manufactures Take Advantage of the 3D TV Hysteria? Easy, just market a 3D Set Top Box! Never mind that format, encoding and transmission standards are still being debated by standards bodies.  What codec will be used for transmission?  What bandwidth will it require?  What QoS is acceptable?  Will they require glasses?  Shutter, Polarized or Dual Color?

Battle of the EU Trade Show Press Releases: Just in time for IFA and IBC we have company after company jumping on the 3D bandwagon.  A few examples:

Pace To Unveil New 3D Set Top Box Thursday, September 10 2009,“Pace has announced that it will showcase a new set top box with a 3D-enabled user interface (UI) at IBC 2009, which gets under way tomorrow in Amsterdam.”

SoftAtHome: World’s First End-to-End TV Solution with 3D User Interface Ready for Deployment on IP-Hybrid Networks “…It enables service providers to accelerate time to market to deliver a new TV offering with a 3D HD user interface on broadcast, IPTV or hybrid networks (DVB-S/C/T+IP)”

Bluestreak Technology Unveils New 3D Flash® User Experiences for Set-top Boxes and Mobile Devices at IBC 2009 “…today unveiled support for new 3D Flash user experiences that offer consumers visually dynamic ways to search for and discover multimedia content and web services on their television set-top boxes…”

NXP Brings Unrivalled Performance to Mainstream HD DVRs and Set-top Boxes “The NXP PNX847x/8x/9x also features an advanced Imagination Technologies POWERVR 3D graphics processing unit (GPU) to render advanced programming navigation user interfaces, games and other 3D content.”

ADB to Focus on New Technologies and Exciting 3D Applications at IPTV World Forum:Our solution consists of a suite of applications using our open standard middleware, based on GEM technology, several hundreds of applications based on our patent pending EGG™-3D user interface.”

Broadcom BCM93740 - Advanced 3D Set-Top Box Development Platform: The Broadcom BCM93740 is an advanced set-top box development platform supporting high definition television (HDTV), dual standard definition decoding and broadband cable modem internet access. It is a highly integrated, cost-effective design built on the latest generation of Broadcom silicon and software offering low risk and quick time to market for the next generation of interactive set-top boxes.”

Just use 3D in your marketing and everyone will assume you mean decoding and playback of actual 3D TV content.

SENSIO and Sagem Win The Best 3D Marketing Hype Award at IBC: I really had to read and re-read this one to make sure I understood what was being offered.  These providers have claimed, in writing, to actually convert “any type of broadcast” into 3D playback on “any 2D or 3D TV” --- and if you keep it in your barn you can spin straw into gold!

SENSIO and Sagem Communications Showcase a 3D Digital Terminal at IBC “Thanks to this integrated solution, service providers will soon be able to reach all subscribers, equipped with 3DTVs or not, via one and unique signal, regardless of the type of broadcast network. Since the set-top box is agnostic to any type of 3D display technology implemented within TVs, it can support any type of 2D or 3D TVs thus allowing service providers to easily migrate from 2D to 3D services.

Back To Reality:  I have no doubt that 3D TV will be available in most markets within the next 5 years (the minimum sales cycle for replacement TVs).  In a time when MSOs are struggling with bandwidth usage and downgrading HDTV, it seems like there are still a few challenges standing in the way.  Marketing a new dimension in television before it is really available seems like a fool’s errand.  Is everyone too young to remember the Sony BetaMax vs. VHS battles?  Surely we have not forgotten the recent ceasefire in the Blu-ray and HD-DVD video CD format war.

These recent forays into the world of hype remind me of a quote from my former boss at OpenTV and the current Head of TV Technology at Google, Vincent Dureau:  “The killer app for television is watching TV!”

Keep pushing forward

Jeff Vinson


[Jeff is currently seeking a full time position in the IPTV and Connected Home ecosystem.]