British payTV satellite broadcaster BSkyB launched the world’s first 3DTV channel last October. Already Sky 3D has amassed 70,000 subscriptions, half of the estimated total number of 3D-ready TVs installed in UK homes.
The man responsible for driving this technical innovation on behalf of Sky is Chris Johns, the broadcaster’s chief engineer who was first alerted to the potential of 3DTV delivery over satellite in demonstrations at NAB three years ago.
“We are now looking to bridge the content gap by accelerating 3D program production,” he told the audience at the DCS. However such acceleration should not lead to corner cutting on the creation of a high quality and comfortable 3D viewing experience, Johns said. “If you deliver cut price 3D people won’t buy into it.”
No matter the genre, and Sky has experimented with most of them illustrated here with clips from several live sports to documentary programming, live opera, dance and studio entertainment shows, there were a core set of lessons that Sky wants to educate the market about.
“A producer’s first project in 3D turns out, in most cases, to be theme park 3D which emphasises the wow factor but is actually very demanding on the eyes,” said Johns. “At Sky we want viewers to be able to watch 3D – sports or opera for example - for 2-3 hours or more at a time. That means creating the 3D in a natural way – retaining the theme park effects but limiting them for special occasions and for certain effects.”
Sky ensures that everyone who creates content for its channel adheres to a set of guidelines, available on its website. These are not specifications, stressed Johns, in as much as they are not defined rules, but guidelines to create a foundation for everyone to work from.
These include keeping the depth budget to 3% into the screen and 1% out of the screen and minimising the amount of 2D-3D conversion.
“We don’t advocate conversion,” he said. “It can be done but only at great expense and not on a $10k box in realtime. You need to have editorial control and you have to do it with care or don’t do it at all.”
It’s perfectly practical to use a wide variety of rigs and camera equipment provided the tech choice is tuned into the particular project. For live sports, where there is no second chance, Sky uses 3Ality rigs - expensive acknowledged Johns but a technology that provides the production team with full control over all the lens and rig parameters.
“Yet using manual convergence on camera set-ups is fine if, for example, you are shooting a drama,” he said. “Integrated cameras can also produce great results - if used correctly. The important thing is to understand what technology you are using and what it can achieve. The same goes for postproduction. Understand what transfer methods there are for getting material out of a digital camera all the way through the chain before you start. Don’t short change yourself on preparing the workflow because it will end additional cost in post when you find you cannot correct misalignments.”
He advised covering any 3D material in 5.1 multichannel because the sound adds to the 3D effect by positioning objects in the picture, if done correctly, and even helps the viewer predict the direction from where things come from out of the frame: “That applies not just to sport but across all genre,” he said.
Sky is investing heavily in commissioning 3D content and hopes its initiative, along with that of 3net, will push the industry forward and create a virtuous circle; “So that when a viewer turns on the TV they have a choice to watch in SD, HD or 3D,” said Johns. “When their first choice becomes 3D then we will have achieved our aims.”