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Sky plots three dimensional future

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Sky has demonstrated a 3D television solution that uses new cameras and 3D encoding equipment but may be received by existing Sky+ HD boxes.

Sky's 3D system uses the existing Sky HD transmission path and a Sky+ HD box to receive the signal. However, content is filmed using two standard HD cameras in a special rig to get a stereoscopic effect; these two 16:9 pictures are then encoded by a special device early in the transmission chain such that the pictures from the left camera and right camera each take up half of a 16:9 frame. This video is then sent through the existing Sky HD transmission path to a Sky+ HD box, which then outputs the picture to a special 3D-compatible television set. Such televisions have a special processor that takes the left and right image and interlaces them in a way that with the addition of a polarising filter in the set and polarising glasses being worn by viewers creates a natural 3D effect.

At a demonstration at its Osterley headquarters, Sky showed clips created in 3D from key event programming such as England vs New Zealand rugby, Liverpool vs Marseille, Hatton vs Lazcano boxing, and even an edition of Sky1's Gladiators. Although each event was only covered by 3 high definition cameras the 3D effect was noticeable and gave an encompassing feeling and depth to the programme. The effect worked particularly well when the 3D effect gave depth behind the screen, but worked less well in the classic 3D movie effect of things jumping out at the screen at you.

Sky's team admitted that they started the project as sceptics but found that the 3D capability, when used carefully, created a compelling event. They reiterated that this was a research and development demonstration of what is possible, and not the launch of a service. Until 3D-equipped TV sets become common place - and Sky believes that this year's Consumer Electronics Show will feature a number of 3D sets as the next step from HDTV - and content, such as BluRay movies and games, begin to exploit this technology, the commercialisation of the broadcast technology demonstrated by Sky will remain some way off. However, there is a view that as HDTV prices tumble, the new 3D technology offers the opportunity of creating a premium 3D product with increased margins.

The technology and transmission systems are in place to allow 3D to be used alongside standard HD as the next step for video technology. How this appears as a product, or even when it appears, is unknown; however, with the growing acceptance of a single standard for 3D broadcasting it seems to be likely to be in our viewing future.

> Would you adopt a 3DTV product? Click here to have your say in the Sky+ HD forum

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