Europe sets stage for 3-D satellite TV

Eutelsat director sees technology in next two years

ROME -- 3-D satellite television could be in European homes in as little as two years if major broadcasters get behind the new medium, Olivier Millies-Lacroix, the commercial director of European satellite operator Eutelsat, said Thursday.

"Within one to two years is technically possibly, but it is more a matter of getting a large broadcaster to decide to it," he said, speaking at the SatExpo Europe technology conference in Rome.

"I believe that there is an interest from the public for 3-D but it will be for pay TV operators and broadcasters to organize a product," he said.

While 3-D movies and theatrical events are burgeoning, extending the process into television is fraught with technical complexity and financial cost.

To create a flow of 3-D programming, producers and technicians will need to be trained to create entirely new fare, and there are a wealth of technical hitches that accompany the process of 3-D stereoscopic video signal production, processing and display work, Millies-Lacroix said.

"We have to maintain integrity of the process and it is clear that we need to gather different competencies," he said. Eutelsat already is part of an alliance with OpenSky and 3-D content producer DBW Communication, the 3-D stereoscopic group that aims to do just that.

So far, a number of major British broadcasters including the BBC and satellite platform BSkyB are actively researching 3-D but concede that there are still significant technical and commercial issues to overcome.

BSkyB's research and development team is currently evaluating the potential for launching 3-D services accessible via a standard Sky+ HD box. The move would still require content to be filmed using dedicated 3-D cameras and rigs but, in December, the satcaster successfully demonstrated 3-D TV delivered through its existing high definition infrastructure, airing content including entertainment show "Gladiators" and coverage of major rugby and soccer matches that was filmed, produced and edited using dedicated 3-D cameras and rigs.

"We've demonstrated that it's now possible to offer a 'seeing-is-believing' 3-D TV experience in the home. And thanks to our high-capacity satellite network and HD boxes, we have shown that Sky+HD is already 3-D Ready," said Gerry O'Sullivan, BSkyB's director of strategic product development.

Sky is currently working with others in the wider TV industry including TV manufacturers and studios to work out whether there is the potential to launch commercial 3-D TV services.

The BBC's R&D division also is evaluating 3-DTV, investigating television sets that don't require viewers to wear 3-D glasses as well as those that do, a BBC spokeswoman said.

"Research of this kind is a lengthy process, so it is too early to have a 3-DTV strategy at the moment because there is not yet a clear route to audiences," the spokeswoman said. "However, the BBC will continue to explore the formats of tomorrow in partnership with others through BBC R&D."