SMPTE to set home 3-D standards

Insiders believe move will benefit d-cinema stakeholders

The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers is starting a significant initiative that could help to propel the stereoscopic 3-D home entertainment industry forward.

The international standards-setting body will create 3-D mastering standards for content that will be viewed in the home -- for all devices and delivery methods.

"Right now there are many companies that have different technical methods for doing 3-D in the home, but you need to format content in different ways in order to have it work on those different systems," explained SMPTE engineering vp Wendy Aylsworth. "If the studios have to make different (types of) discs for these home entertainment systems, it's not going to happen. And consumers, I think, will not want to read the box to see what will work on their sets."

According to the SMPTE plan, the society will first establish an industry task force to define the parameters of a mastering standard for 3-D content distributed via broadcast, cable, satellite, packaged media and the Internet, and played-out on televisions, computer screens and other tethered displays. In six months, the 3-D Home Display Formats Task Force will produce a report that defines the issues and challenges, minimum standards, and evaluation criteria.

The society will then form a standards committee, which will use the report as a working document for standards setting efforts to follow. This is a complex process that takes time, and Aylsworth -- who is vp, technology at Warner Brothers Technical Operations -- estimated that the standard is at least a year and a half away.

A 3-D home entertainment market has the potential to impact 3-D digital cinema. Numerous executives believe that such a market might prompt increased 3-D production at the studios, which would benefit digital cinema stakeholders. "If the studios saw that the cost in creating 3-D -- which is more expensive than a 2-D movie -- could potentially bring in more revenue in the later market, I think it would help to develop more movies in that genre," Aylsworth said.

What impact it might have on the perceived advantage that 3-D gives digital cinema theater owners would remain to be seen.

For the task force's inaugural Aug. 19 meeting, SMPTE is welcoming participants representing areas including broadcasting, packaged media companies, cable and satellite, content creators and technology developers. Representatives from associations with related interests, such as the Consumer Electronics Association and Advanced Television Systems Committee, are expected to participate.

"This task force represents SMPTE's continuing efforts to reach out to allied organizations in order to comprehensively identify options and gather requirements prior to the development of formal standards," explained SMPTE president Robert Kisor, who is vp engineering and technical services at Paramount Pictures. "We hope that groups representing consumer electronics, broadcasters, and others actively join in the work of the Task Force in order to identify a unified system that will benefit consumers, content providers, and manufacturers."