It's no surprise that 3D is a major focus here at the NAB Show this week. But with all the market attention on how and when consumers might upgrade yet again, to an expensive 3D television set, one thing I've wondered about for a while is when might we see 3D online video streaming to standard monitors. At last, I saw a demo of this in the Microsoft booth yesterday. Microsoft showed a live stream of German broadcaster TVN's control booth (yes, pretty boring stuff but something live was needed), delivered in 3D to both a computer monitor and also to a Panasonic 3D TV.
The diagram below shows the details. The broadcast was captured by a 3D camera and encoded using Inlet's Spinnaker 7100 HD streaming appliance at 3 mbps in 720p HD. The files were delivered via Level 3's network which used Microsoft's IIS Smooth Streaming delivery to the PC running Silverlight. Then Silverlight does something called "anaglyph rendering" which means delivering 2 offset images in different color layers. Using the 25 cent blue-red paper glasses you've no doubt seen before, the images are fused and I was able to see the TVN control booth in 3D.
Microsoft positioned this as a proof of concept, but with all the technical pieces already in place, the idea of streaming a live 3D event online seems very close at hand with a potentially quick ramp of activity thereafter. Recall that the 2009 French Open tennis tournament was the first live HD streaming event, and less than a year later there have been a number of HD streaming sports events (e.g. NFL games, Olympics, etc.).
After viewing the TVN stream on the PC monitor I then watched it on the Panasonic plasma 3D TV, using $150 glasses. Instead of using the anaglyph technique, the TV and glasses use something called "active shutter" whereby the TV signals to the glasses to open and close each lens at double the frame rate in order to create the 3D experience. While this higher-end set up provided an improved 3D experience, with colors in particular looking sharper and truer, if you didn't have this set up in your home (which most people won't for many years), the PC experience still feels like a big step up from HD.
3D is clearly the next big thing in video delivery, yet with the replacement cycle for expensive 3D TV sets limited, 3D online streaming could represent an important starting point, introducing 3D to a huge number of users for modest expense. And for Silverlight and Microsoft generally, it could be another differentiator vs. Flash as Adobe continues its skirmish with Apple. It will be interesting to see how it is adopted and rolls out.
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