BBC unready to commit to 3DTV format

By Julian Clover
Published: August 25, 2010 11.50 Europe/London

The BBC says it is unclear as to which 3D format is most likely to emerge as the popular choice among public and commercial broadcasters. In an interview with Broadband TV News’ sister publication New Television Insider, Graham Plumb, the BBC’s head of distribution technology, said it might be possible for satellite platforms, including Freesat, to take a different route to their terrestrial counterparts.
At present pay-TV companies involved in early 3D broadcasters have opted for the side-by-side format, allowing them to continue using their deployed set-top boxes, providing the consumer has purchased a new 3DTV display. However, terrestrial broadcasters within the European Broadcasting Union have been discussing the possibility of using a service compatible format, meaning that additional information would be added to a standard definition transmission, thus saving precious bandwidth.

Andy Quested, principal technologist, HD, BBC Future Media and Technology explained that some confusion had arisen resulting from the response a recent EBU survey that asked what members thought of the current standard. “About 50% of the respondents said the current formats are OK for their current thinking, well current thinking is about three to five years out, so it would work if they had to do anything now. 33% said they wouldn’t work at all and everyone said we had to investigate what the DVB was doing and what is coming out of those discussions. We don’t believe we have to rush this just to get a 3D service out based on some of the frame compatible systems.”

As previously reported in Broadband TV News, UK transmission company Arqiva has plans for a terrestrial 3DTV test in the Service Compatible format. “There’s a lot of noise and a lot of people coming out very firmly saying one thing or the other, I’ve certainly heard a lot of noise from other broadcasters and Arqiva, but I don’t think it is as clear-cut as that,” said Plumb.

As a commercial company Arqiva wants to re-establish the prowess that a generation ago would have come directly from the BBC and IBA engineering departments. “We haven’t had any close dialogue with Arqiva, but you’ve got to ask yourself what are the purposes of those tests,” queries Plumb? The BBC currently codes its multiplexes through Siemens and uses Arqiva for the delivery of its signals.

The major challenge would be fitting in any 3D signals on the existing terrestrial system. As things stand there would clearly be no room for a 3D signal to join BBC HD, ITV HD, Channel 4 HD and this autumn’s launch of BBC One HD within the PSB’s HD multiplex. Fitting in another HD channel might not be quite so difficult. “At the moment there’s four slots on the terrestrial multiplex, but I think we’ve said that when encoding improvements come, probably around 2012 there will be room for a fifth slot at that stage,” says Plumb, who suggests that by the time the BBC wants to launch HD versions of BBC Three and BBC Four technological advances will find them a berth too.