In a big month for 3D, we’re rounding out this week’s coverage with an exclusive Comcast interview on the latest TV technology. Comcast’s Mark Hess graciously agreed to answer some of my questions on the recent Masters Tournament broadcast, and the cable operator’s future plans for 3DTV. How did the Masters Tournament differ from earlier 3D VOD programs offered by Comcast? What compression rate did Comcast use to deliver the Tournament? Will we see a Comcast 3D program guide soon? Keep reading to find out. The full text of the interview is below.
INTERVIEW WITH COMCAST SVP OF VIDEO PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT MARK HESS
Comcast and 3D
What has Comcast announced with regards to 3D?
Comcast has partnered with Augusta National Golf Club, Sony and IBM to provide a never-before seen perspective of a live sporting event in consumers’ homes with the Masters Tournament in 3D. This was the first, live event delivered nationally in next-gen 3D to the home. The Masters is shooting and producing the 3D event and Comcast is a distribution partner of the Masters and is delivering the 3D footage from Augusta National Golf Club to homes across the country.
What will the focus be for Comcast and 3D in 2010?
We think that 3D is a big trend in the future of television – 3DTV works particularly well for event-driven coverage like sporting events and movies. To watch these events in 3DTV quality consumers will be wearing 3D glasses, similar to recent theatrical 3D releases, like the blockbuster movie Avatar. We are always focused on delivering the best consumer experiences and 3D brings exciting new ways to experience content, especially sports, movies and animation.
How is Comcast working with Motorola on 3D?
Comcast is using Motorola 3DTV software on DCX3400 set-top boxes throughout our network, in addition to demonstrations and viewing receptions around the country, where press and influencers experienced the 2010 Masters in 3D.
The Masters Tournament
How do you expect the live 3D Masters Tournament to compare to 3D VOD releases you’ve made available?
We’ve offered 3D VOD movies since 2008 that customers can watch with their existing HD set-top boxes and specially colored paper glasses that they can get from us. That format, called anaglyph, doesn’t require a new 3DTV. The Masters in 3D is using advanced next-generation 3D technology know as stereoscopic and requires a new 3DTV or a PC with a 3D monitor. Special 3D glasses are supplied with many of the new 3DTVs, or they can be purchased separately.
The Masters is the perfect event for a next-generation 3DTV presentation. Being the premier event in the PGA Tour,The Masters and Augusta National Golf Club feature some of the most scenic views in the world with breathtaking topography, countless azaleas and hundred-year-old trees lining the holes. The course itself is also one of the most physically challenging for golfers with undulating greens, steep bunkers and dramatic changes in elevation. Augusta National has stood the test of time and now comes to life in your living room thanks to 3D technology, making it a unique experience for viewers.
In what format will you deliver the Masters event?
The Masters 3D television feed will be delivered in 1080i, side-by-side format to the Comcast Media Center, where it will be compressed to 18.75 megabits per second and will use MPEG2 and a RealD multiplexor for final delivery to the home. This is the same rate that we typically deliver for live 2D HD sports telecasts. Online content delivery will be at various bitrates, with the best viewing experience at about 5 Mbps using a Docsis 3.0 modem.
How have your customers reacted to the Masters in 3D?
So far, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Viewers have commented on how 3D really enhances the viewing experience. How it gives them a unique, immersive perspective of the golf environment – from adding depth and life to the challenges the contours of the course to highlighting the impressive landscaping and making it seem like the sand is coming through the TV screen when the golfers try to get out of the bunker.
Comcast and What’s Next for 3D
What is Comcast’s strategy beyond this year with regards to 3D? How about 3D channels?
Although we do have plans to offer additional 3D content soon, we cannot discuss specifics at this time.
How do you see 3DTV evolving moving into 2011 and beyond?
We’re very interested in 3D because it gives consumers an exciting new way to experience content, especially sports, movies and animation.
Advancements in next-gen 3D are happening quickly, mirroring the development and adoption of HD. New 3DTV sets from Sony, Panasonic, LG and Samsung are becoming available as the industry experiments with new ways to deliver this content to the home.
We think that it is a big trend in the future of television – 3DTV works particularly well for event-driven coverage like a sporting event or a movie.
Will we see a 3D demo on the Comcast lobby wall any time soon?
Yes, in fact we already have presented 3D content on the Comcast lobby wall at our Corporate headquarters in Philadelphia. Specifically, this past December we used anaglygh technology to present the “Holiday Spectacular” in 3D.
When can we get a sneak peek at Comcast’s 3D program guide in the works?
Although we can’t get into any specifics, Comcast Labs has already been testing next-gen 3D technologies for a number of years and plans to continue development of a series of 3D experiences. We’ll let you know when we can share more.