Movies such as Avatar may not be 3D biggest drawcard, but they are certainly attractive. Avatar vividly depicts the “Hallelujah” mountain and some epic battle scenes using the latest IMAX 3D technology. Audiences are immersed in a tidal wave of 3D audio and video.
At the 2010 International Consumer Electronic Show, leading TV manufacturers Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, and Toshiba rushed to display their new 3D TV products, and Chinese manufacturers Changhong and Skyworth followed suit. Currently, 20% of larger LCD TV sets support 3D; and in the future, more and more families will acquire 3D HD TV sets.
During the recent FIFA World Cup, professional 3D cameras were used to shoot more than 25 matches, which were freely broadcast on satellites around the globe. On-field and off-field passions were displayed with vivid and unprecedented clarity.
Against this background, ZTE—a leader in IPTV—is closely monitoring the development of the 3D TV market. A goal of ZTE’s IPTV business development has been to introduce 3D into IPTV by upgrading original IPTV platform devices.
3D audio and video technology dates back to the 1950s. It was mainly applied in movie theaters rather than family homes due to limitations in TV technology. A family-oriented 3D solution based on dual projectors emerged when portable overhead projectors became available; but even still, this failed to impact the household market because of cost and immature technology.
With the continuous development of LCD, many foreign and domestic manufacturers have released new TV sets that support 3D broadcasting. 3D blu-ray stereoscopic players and 3D auxiliary equipment such as active shutter time-resolved glasses have also been released. It is no exaggeration to say that terminal equipment available today is up to the task of bringing 3D audio and video into millions of households.
In this context, major TV operators have already released 3D HD channels. British Sky Broadcasting, for example, employs the latest stereo video cameras for shooting 3D images, which are broadcasted to the world after being processed on the front-end. Many movie and TV producers are also promoting 3D movies and TV programs vigorously. Even the gaming industry is weighing in on the trend. The 3D TV industrial chain is maturing gradually, and related technology is in steady development. However, 3D technology is still new to the IPTV field, and this is precisely the kind of opportunity that will allow ZTE to demonstrate its leadership.
During the development of 3D, several film source formats and realization methods have come to the fore. At present, most film sources are red-ray/blu-ray, which realizes 3D effects by using ordinary players and display devices aided by a pair of inexpensive viewing glasses. It is so easy to realize 3D effects on IPTV that the existing devices have no problems achieving it. However, color and brightness are less vivid when 3D is produced this way.
Another film source is represented by the left and right format. Left and right eye images recorded by a video camera are combined into one image (see Figure 1), and one of the sound tracks from the two images is adopted. The resolution using this film source is double the ordinary one. For example, combining two images with 640×480 resolutions can achieve a resolution of 1280×480. This is a mainstream technique in radio and TV. Football match broadcasts as mentioned above, use this method. Two images with the 960×1080 resolutions can be combined into one full HD image with a resolution of 1920×1080.
In order to realize this, an image synthesizer and algorithm is necessary to synthesize the dual streams collected by the 3D video camera into a single long stream. The synthesized stream is then sent to an encoder. Existing encoders and set-top boxes do not need to be upgraded, but the highest possible resolution is 1920×1080 due to the limitations of existing devices and software. The effective image resolution is therefore 960×1080, which is insufficient for full HD. After decoding by the set-top box, images are sent to the 3D TV set, which displays the images one by one after separating out the left and right images. With a high refresh rate over 120Hz and active shutter time-resolved glasses, the viewer’s left and right eyes can see the left and right images respectively, which creates a 3D display effect.
ZTE accomplished the first stage of its project by adding an image synthesizer to the original IPTV platform, and by providing left and right film formatting resources to realize 3D video on demand. 3D IPTV audio and video was introduced to family 3D TV sets through ZTE’s ZXV10 HD set-top box.
At the end of last year, the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) formally announced that they had formulated Blu-ray 3D™ standards, and released the specifications. These 3D standards were completed in collaboration with Hollywood movie studios, and consumer electronics and computer producers. With the blu-ray disc―the most powerful HD family entertainment platform—the 3D experience will become commonlplace in family homes.
Blu-ray 3D™ standards adopt 3D video coding based on Multiview Video Coding (MVC). This represents a development from AVC video coding based on ITU H.264 standard presently supported by all blu-ray disc players. Compared with 2D content, data increases by half due to MPEG4-MVC technology adopted by Blu-ray 3D™ standards. Data associated with left and right eye images is compressed, and backward compatibility with 1080p high resolution of existing 2D blu-ray players is enabled.
ZTE plans to support MVC coding in the next stage. By upgrading and renewing its headend encoder, MVC stream output will be realized and HD IPTV set-top boxes will be released to support MVC stream decoding. After decoding, the stream will be transmitted through HDMI to 3D TV sets for display. In a competitive IPTV market, satisfying ever-changing customer demands is key for market development. As far as operators are concerned, creating new functions and features is important for competitive differentiation and of great help in retaining customer loyalty.
At present, left and right format technology is comparatively mature. 3D solutions based on this technology were first released by ZTE, who have since led in 3D IPTV audio and video applications. ZTE continues to dominate the high-end IPTV market; meanwhile, competitors are hastening their research and development of MVC technology due to vigorous promotion by BDA. Yet it will take some time to release these commercial products. Looking to the future, MVC will be the developmental trend that ZTE must closely follow. When MVC is applied on a large scale, ZTE can release corresponding products, dominate the market, and stay ahead in the IPTV field.