Published: September 2, 2010 08.58 Europe/London

A new initiative to support the introduction of 3D television in Europe has been announced by SES Astra. It involves a common understanding of the minimum technical standards required for the introduction of 3DTV and has already received the backing of major European broadcasters, both public and private, and the consumer electronics industry.

Initial satellite 3D transmissions will use either the side-by-side (for 1080i resolution) or top-bottom (for 720p resolution) formats which make them compatible with existing High Definition (HD) set top boxes (though with the crucial addition of a new TV display).

At a stroke this means that transmissions already underway by Sky 3D and plans by Canal+ for a regular 3D service for the French market already fall under the agreement.

“By working closely with our broadcast customers and the consumer electronics industry, we are again demonstrating our ability to bring together key-industry players to drive innovation in the field of broadcasting technology,” said Ferdinand Kayser, President and CEO, SES Astra. “As the leading satellite operator in Europe, we are very proud to be part of this development which will become the next driver for the consumer electronics market and ensure that broadcast TV will continue to be the main entertainment media.”

Significantly, Astra points to signalling mechanisms for free-to-air services within an updated Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) standard which will allow automatic switching of the display from 2D to 3D and from 3D to 2D broadcasts.

Public service broadcasters within the EBU are currently debating how they should address 3DTV. The general consensus is that there is no need to rush to market and while there may be some PSB broadcasts in side-by-side, broadcasters may wait until a service compatible system is available.

Separately, ZDF director Markus Schaechter has expressed scepticism at the 3DTV format. “We will participate in pilot projects and experiments. But the technology is currently available for television far too complicated and expensive,” he told journalists at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin. “Production is up to 60% more expensive, you need to transfer additional channels, or transponders, and as long as you need special glasses, 3D will have a hard life in the medium.”