3D TV: your guide to this next generation technology

Evolving the viewer experience

99 per cent of our time spent looking at AV content on screens at home is spent looking at the screen of a TV set (Nielsen/CRE). There are obvious reasons behind our preference for the largest of the small screens when it comes to watching TV. Among other things, you don't have to hold it, squint at it, wear earphones to use it, refresh it, or uncomfortably crowd round it to share the experience.

High Definition (HD) is just one of the technologies that have made the TV viewing experience more attractive and have magnetised viewing to the living room. Along with larger screens (growing about an inch a year), surround sound, digital television recorders... recent massive consumer investment in TV equipment has created a higher impact experience. And so we watch more.

Another US report - from Myers - has found claimed engagement with advertising on HD channels for viewers with HD sets was a whopping 10 per cent higher than for standard definition.

All this bodes well for the next generation of TV innovation - 3D, which will once more raise the bar in terms of what viewers expect of content formats and maintain clear water between the standards of professional 'TV' content and the longer tail of niche or user generated video content.

With Sky’s launch of its new 3D channel on October 1st 2010, and TV manufacturers investing heavily in the technology, we can safely say that 3D has arrived. However, as broadcasters and manufacturers experiment with the new techniques that add an extra dimension to the visual experience, you may well be asking yourself ‘who is doing what at the moment, what does it mean for advertising and where’s it all going?’ Well, here’s a quick rustle through the green shoots of 3D TV for you, which we hope will cast light on some of these questions.

3D and the brain

The human eye's ability to see things with a depth of field and wide perspective is based on how the brain processes two separate images, as received by each eye, which are of course a little distance from each other, and have a slightly different view of the world. When we look at something, (say, two chocolate cakes) the brain is able to merge these two separate scenes together to create an "amalgamated" image that includes depth clues. This allows us to focus on specific areas in any scene and, in this example, enables us to accurately reach out and acquire the cake of our choice.

From 2D TV to 3D TV

Delivering the two different views of a three dimensional world onto a single two dimensional screen is quite a challenge, because your starting point is that there is only one view available to both eyes.

However, 3D TV is now possible because of a series of major breakthroughs, in camera, post-production, encoding, set-top box and TV set technology, which mean that domestic TVs are now capable of processing an image in a manner that can deliver the depth information to the brain - much like the human eye.

There are a number of ways to do this, and you can find out more about the dominant technologies below.

Who's involved with 3D TV?

Here are some of the people looking at it in one form or another:

  • BSkyB have researched and pioneered this new technology in the UK. The launch of the Sky 3D channel in the home follows the introduction of 3D broadcasts in pubs and clubs. Since April 2010, over a million sports fans have enjoyed live 3D coverage in more than 1500 pubs across the country.
  • Virgin Media now offer customers with a 3D-ready set-top box the chance to watch pay-per-view movies on demand in 3D.
    Channel 4 ran an anaglyphic 3D week in the autumn of 2009.
  • The Europe satellite operator Eutelsat has been running a free-to-view experimental 3D channel for the past 20 months
  • Japanese broadcaster NHK has been transmitting short daily segments of 3D content since early 2008
  • France Telecom is looking to launch a 3D sports channel on its cable network
  • The BBC is looking at screening some of the 2012 London Olympic games in 3D
  • ITV is reportedly planning a stereoscopic production of the comedy Headcases
  • Most TV manufacturers now offer some sort of  3D-compantible television set

BSKYB's 3D Channel

In the next step in the Sky+ HD journey, Sky has launched the Europe’s first 3D channel. This follows on from Sky’s launch of the technology in January 2010, where it was the first TV company to broadcast a live 3D TV sports event to a public audience.  The Premier League clash between Arsenal and Manchester United was filmed in 3D and broadcast over the Sky platform to selected pubs around the UK and Ireland, with their customers becoming the first audiences anywhere in the world to experience live Premier League in 3D. 

Since April 2010, over a million sports fans have enjoyed live 3D coverage in more than 1500 pubs across the country

The Sky 3D channel brings ‘Event TV' into the home, bringing viewers sports, movies and a broad selection of arts, entertainment and documentary programmes, including an average of three live sports events each week.

Sky 3D is available through all existing Sky+HD boxes. The channel is also compatible with all of the 3D TVs being introduced by LG, Sony, Samsung, and Panasonic, and works with both ‘active' and ‘passive' 3D formats.

Launch content included the 2010 Ryder cup, Barclay’s Premier League matches, Ice age – the dawn of the Dinosaurs, Dance Dance Dance and Bugs, a documentarty highlighting the extraordinary world of tropical insects in minute detail in 3D.

 “Sky 3D will totally change the way entertainment is viewed in homes across the country. We see 3D as ‘Event TV', an opportunity for people to share an incredible visual experience in their home, watching some of the biggest and best television available including; live sport, movies, entertainment and arts programmes. When people gathered round their new television sets to watch the Queens Coronation broadcast in colour, little did they know that in years to come images would eventually be leaping from their television screen with the introduction of 3D. The launch of the channel is the just the beginning, 3D has arrived and will change TV forever.”

John Cassy, Channel Director, Sky 3D


This comes at the end of an experimental period where Sky was out and about capturing and experimenting with a wide variety of 3D TV content, both to technically test the concept and to find out what sort of programming works and what doesn't.

In April 2009 they successfully broadcast the UK's first live event in 3D TV to a domestic 3D TV set; this being a performance by Keane live from Abbey Road Studios. Here are some other events they've recorded:

  • Usain Bolt, sprinting 150 metres down a specially designed track on Manchester's Deansgate during the Bupa Great City Games (17 May 2009)
  • Swan Lake, a special performance by English National Ballet to capture the UK's first ballet for 3D TV (9 April 2009)
  • England vs. New Zealand Rugby Union Test Match (29th November)
  • Sky1's Gladiators (December 2008)
  • Liverpool FC vs Marseille UEFA Champions League (26th November 2008)
  • Ricky Hatton vs. Juan Lazcano (12th March 2008)

How many flavours of 3D TV are there and what's the difference?

There are a number of ways to deliver stereoscopic image pairs to the viewer on a screen. Four are much talked of and used technologies. Namely:

  • Anaglyphic 3D (with passive red-cyan glasses)
  • Polarisation 3D (with passive polarized glasses)
  • Alternate-frame sequencing (with active shutter glasses or headgear)
  • Auto-stereoscopic displays (without glasses or headgear)

What they have in common, is the way they capture live action. 3D starts with recording content the way that our eyes see it - from two different perspectives. Two HD cameras are used in a special camera rig to take aligned left and right images of the chosen scene.

From there the systems diverge, depending on how the images are displayed on screen, and whether you need special glasses to create the 3D or not.

'Glasses-based' viewing systems project both a left and right image onto the same screen, and then the glasses filter out the correct image to each eye, recreating a real-life sense of depth for the viewer. There are a number of ways of doing this, of course.

There are early stage versions of TVs that do not require glasses for viewing, which is where most of us would like this technology to end up eventually, but this technology is not yet perfected so as to deliver the same quality of 3D experience as glasses-based systems.

Anyway, here's a quick run down the options, and who's using which.

Anaglyphic 3D

We're all pretty familiar with the old red and green glasses that you may have searched for in your cereal packet as a youngster. This form of 3D anaglyph was popular back in the 80's with Hollywood films like Jaws-3D. Early anaglyph images suffered from a loss of colour, as the method for filtering out the left and right images is essentially stripping out a wide range of colour from the image, making images dark and dull at times. And of course, there was that disconcerting ghosting around the edges...

Channel 4's 3D week was shown in an advanced, patented anaglyph called ColorCode 3D, which has the great advantage of looking almost like an ordinary image when viewed without glasses, and not requiring you to pop out and buy a 3D ready TV.

However, pop on your ColorCodeViewer™ 3D glasses, which are equipped with special amber and blue filters, and the image is transformed. The amber lens passes colour information to the eye and the 3D depth information is passed by the blue lens. This combination of coloured lenses also allows colour blind people to see some 3D effect. It's a good 'right here - right now' solution

Polarisation 3D (Passive 3D)

Most people watching Sky’s new 3D channel will probably use this technology (although active glasses will also work if you have a compatible TV set). There is no need for customers to upgrade their set-top boxes to access the new 3D channel, as all existing Sky+HD boxes are already '3D Ready'. However, viewers will need a new 3D Ready TV, from the likes of Sony, Samsung, LG and Panasonic, which are expected to be on sale in the UK during 2010.

Sky aren't hitching their wagon to any one particular technology, but in the short term they have gone using 'passive glasses' and 'screen filter technology' to deliver a consumer quality experience. In short, Sky has opted to begin the 3D TV dialogue with consumers by using polarisation to deliver the left and right image.

The images are captured by stereoscopic cameras, and then make their way through Sky's broadcast infrastructure where they are anamorphically compressed and positioned side by side, in a split screen fashion, before being encoded into a normal HD stream.

The 3D TV processes the split screen image and stretches the left image across the odd lines and the right image across the even lines. The illusion is finally complete when the viewer puts on a pair of circular polarised glasses, with the left lens extinguishing the light emitted on the even lines and the right lens extinguishing the light emitted from the odd lines.

"In theory, half the pixels are thrown away for each eye, but, in practice, the resolution loss is negligible... The viewing plane is surprisingly wide in the living room: 20 degrees vertically and 45 degrees left and right."

Brian Lenz, head of product design and innovation at BSkyB

Alternate-frame sequencing (Active 3D)

There is an alternative solution using what are known as 'active shutter glasses', where the TV rapidly alternates a left and right image on the screen, and then the glasses use LCD shutters to 'black-out' the opposite eye for each image (e.g., black-out right eye when the left eye image is shown, then the left eye when the right eye image is shown). The shuttering occurs so rapidly that the viewer perceives it as a seamless experience.

Active shutter technology like Panasonic's system flashes Full HD images onto the screen one after another. This delivers higher resolution than current passive systems, as each eye sees all the lines in the video. However, more complicated - and more expensive - glasses are needed that can receive an infra-red signal and keep in time with the TV.

Auto-stereoscopic displays

Some companies, such as LG and Philips, are developing screens that deliver 3D effects without the need for glasses. They do this via the use of transparent cylindrical lenses known as lenticules. A sheet of tiny lenticules is fixed onto a high-resolution LCD display in such a way that each eye sees a slightly different view of each image pixel.

Some of you may have seen a demo of the prototype Philips WOWvx television at Thinkbox's Televisionaries event. It produces a 3D image that can be viewed from a variety of positions and angles and is proving of some interest to digital signage companies. The TV viewing experience still feels in the early stages though, as your seating position and head attitude is critical to the 3D fun and the resolution's not brilliant. However, it's definitely where 3D would like to go. Delivering high quality, mass market, auto-stereoscopic displays could take a decade, and will need some pretty serious high-resolution kit to deliver it.

So, from a technology and delivery viewpoint, we are in a period of 3D innovation and experimentation. We will, no doubt, move towards some sort of industry-wide standardisation and eventually end up with a 3D experience, without glasses, which can live with quality delivered by lovely HD, or whatever comes after that.

In the meantime, we can expect lots of talk about "delivering more Hertz" and creating a smoother 3D experience for the user.

3D advertising

The increasing number of 3D theatrical film releases (more than 30 in 2010); the conversion of screens to play digital film, and the comparative success of 3D films - which gross more than their 2D equivalents at the box office - is starting to warm up the theatrical 3D advertising market.

Significantly for television, ads made for 3D cinema viewing can be repurposed for 3D TV viewing.

Courvoisier was the first brand to run 3D TV advertising in the UK, with a spot campaign which aired during Channel 4's '3D Week'.

In the US, NBC aired a DreamWorks trailer for the film Monsters vs Aliens during last year's Super Bowl coverage, a significant venture, requiring the distribution of 150 million pairs of special ColorCode 3D glasses.

Sky3D will only show 3D ads on the channel, giving TV advertisers an opportunity to produce something different and create the same standout as 3D programmes. SkyMedia are happy to point advertisers in the right direction in terms of creative resources and production houses that are used to working in 3D.

“The technical specifications are quite stringent. When brands have made a 3D ad, perhaps it’s not necessary the right sort of 3D ad for the channel, so we offer advice and technical assistance,”

Graham Appleby,
director of commercial partnerships,
Sky Media

Manufacturers of 3D TV’s, such as LG, Panasonic and Disney/Pixar are understandably investing in 3DTV advertising as it showcases what they do. However Sky also has automotive and FMCG advertisers airing 3D TV adds.

Although it's still early days, the broadcasters are actively looking for bold and ambitious ideas from brands and advertisers who want to experiment with 3D ads. So, if you fancy a bit of 3D ad innovation give them a call. In the meantime, you may be asking yourself "can I use the ads I've got in the can", or "do I have to start from scratch?" Here are a few pointers.

  • It's best to shoot a 3D ad from scratch to deliver a good 3D experience. The good news is that 3D uses two industry standard 2D cameras, mounted on a 3D rig to replicate the way your eyes see.
  • However, if you have already produced a stereoscopic (separate left and right eye) 3D commercial it can be converted to any form of 3D viewing. Your broadcast partner will be able to help advise on conversion to the right format.
  • It is possible to convert a standard ad into 3D without reshooting with a 3D camera, but it doesn't look as impactful and there are important differences in how you should go about filming effective 3D as opposed to 2D (see below)

Of course, just because you can shoot and show something in 3D, doesn't mean you should. But if you have a great creative idea that makes the most of the technology and which becomes a more effective communication because it's in 3D, then why not?

Shooting 3D TV

The existence of specialist 3D production outfits, the ever-growing bank of knowledge as to what will work in 3D and what won't, plus the evolution of digital technology all mean that creation of stereoscopic 3D content is more practical and affordable than you might think.

The main task falls to the production crew, who have to use co-sited two camera rigs to capture the action, and then keep the two pictures together all the way through the production chain.

Sky's experiments with 3D have revealed some interesting pointers as to differences in workable film grammar for the way 3D TV is shot and edited.

Sky's Chris Johns explains that they used side by side rigs for wide shots, but succeeded in getting the two cameras very close together for close ups, by using a camera rig with mirrors.

"If you jump from where you focus and suddenly jump to something else it's hard on the viewer," says Brian Lenz, Sky's Head of Product Design and Innovation. "In 3D it's best to linger longer and not do a lot of cuts where you're changing the depth of focus. Otherwise it starts to look surreal."

"The bigger thing is getting camera crews comfortable with not having to pan off something as fast as in 2D. You have to let the action roll out of frame rather then trying to keep it in the frame."

This experience extends into the cut too. On 3D shoots, producers have found that modern 2D techniques employing loads of cameras and fast cutting to give the production real pace is not suitable. Shots are allowed to run for longer so viewers can appreciate more detail.

It has also proved best to avoid the kind of 3D trick shots - where images jump out of the frame - and keep the action tighter for a better picture.

In terms of your budget, a 3D ad will cost more than a 2D ad, because you have to factor in additional camera equipment, 3D specialists and 3D post production. C4 estimates a 20 per cent - 40 per cent uplift for 3D production over 2D. However, as more 3D camera rigs and specialist stereographers become available and more content is commissioned, costs will fall.

What's driving 3D TV and how long will it take us to get there?

Consumers are increasingly experiencing the new wave of 3D technologies at the cinema, via gaming and through Digital Outdoor. At some point down the line, these experiences will inevitably be translated into an increased demand for 3D within the home.

Moreover, TV set technologies advance at an eye-watering rate, with new additions to improving the viewing experience arriving daily. So with over 200m new TVs sold across the globe every year, the potential for the widespread introduction of 3D TV over time is significant.

How soon this will reach mass market penetration is, like all new things, up for debate...

  • Futuresource Consulting predicts commercial success for this technology within three to five years, with viewers watching a wide portfolio of content, from sports, films, wildlife and studio-based drama by 2015.
  • Media analyst Screen Digest forecasts 1.2 million 3D capable sets in American homes by the end of 2010, rising to 9.7 million, or 8 per cent of households, by 2013 and global sales of 3D sets in excess of 30 per cent by 2015.
  • Sony's chief executive, Howard Stringer, who knows a thing or two about TVs, is firmly behind the technology. He says "3D is clearly on the way to the mass market. The train is on the track and Sony is ready to drive it home."
  • Sony's chief executive, Howard Stringer, who knows a thing or two about TVs, is firmly behind the technology. He says "3D is clearly on the way to the mass market. The train is on the track and Sony is ready to drive it home." 
  • Jeffrey Katzenberg, Chief Executive, DreamWorks puts it even more stronglyl:  “It’s quite simply the entertainment revolution of our time”. 

"With HD there were a lot of sceptics early on, and those sceptics were proved wrong. 3D TV is following the same path."

Gerry O'Sullivan,
Sky's director of strategic product development

“3D does seem the next step after HD, but our perception is that production is expensive and the platform limited at launch. We are talking to technology clients such as Samsung, BlackBerry and other brands, where immersive sight and motion could make a strong brand connection.”

Chris Locke,
UK Trading Director,
Starcom Mediavest

What most in the know agree is that, once various technical and standards issues have been ironed out, this will not be niche technology.

The part to be played by 3D, in the future of broadcasting is likely to be as significant as high-definition's contribution today, which, of course, opens up some very interesting possibilities for 3D advertising.

In the meantime, instead of settling back to watch a whole evening's 3D viewing, we are likely to see appropriate events, movies of the weeks, special documentaries and things like major football matches broadcast in 3D, encouraging viewers to put on the glasses and watch something in a special way.

Links / stuff for your inner geek

All you need to know about Sky 3D

Archived pages about Channel 4’s 3D week

EU Funding for Advanced 3D TV: The European Commission ICT program is part of a €9.1 billion fund from EU member countries. One current project, 3D4YOU, will develop the key elements of a practical 3D television system; the definition of a 3D delivery format and guidelines for the 3D content creation process. The project will also create 3D capture techniques, convert captured content for broadcasting and 3D coding for delivery. The target completion date is July, 2010.

From the Pulfrich Effect to Compensating Diopter Glasses: lots of interesting stereoscopy info to take with you to the pub


3D TV: your guide

With the arrival of Europe’s first 3D channel in UK homes, and people starting to enjoy a new immersive viewing experience, we take a roundup of who’s doing what in the world of 3D TV and look at how advertisers can engage with it at the moment.

Associated Content

  • What's really going on in households who own a Digital Television Recorder (DTR/PVR) and where is this brilliant piece of kit going next? Here are the facts.
  • RESEARCH: As households invest in broadband, WIFI and laptop technology, the opportunity to consume TV online is gaining momentum. Together with Work research, Thinkbox have examined the impact and implications of internet TV. You can find out about the relationship between broadcast and online television; the viewer response to the different online TV ad formats and the implications for the advertiser, right here.
  • The accountancy and consulting firm Deloitte has just published their 2010's media predictions report which focuses on the consequences of technological change - particularly digitization - and are shaped by 2010's economic outlook. Amongst a wide range of topics, they address the demand for on-demand TV, the integration of television and the web and the short-term prospects for 3D television. Here you can get the top line on their findings and also link through to their full report. It's well worth a read.