More than 160 people from 80 companies signed up for the first meeting of the SMPTE task force, held under nondisclosure Aug. 19 in Los Angeles. The group is expected to submit a report to SMPTE leaders within six months. A follow-on effort to draft a standard for 3-D content formats could take another 18 to 30 months, Aylsworth said.
Andy Setos, president of engineering at Fox Group, said he is not sure SMPTE is the right group for the job because of its historical focus on production issues. "We haven't identified the best forum for where this work can be done yet, and there could be an opening for a new forum," Setos said.
One alternative, the 3D@Home Consortium, which counts Disney, Philips, Samsung and Sony among its 30 members, aims to draft needs and requirements statements for 3DTV. "We hope to do a lot of the legwork for people like SMPTE," Insight Media's Chinnock said.
Separately, the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at the University of Southern California (USC), which hosted SMPTE's August meeting, has formed its own 3-D working group chaired by a representative from Dolby Labs. It aims to define the core issues involved in driving 3-D content into the home.
The work at the USC lab complements that of SMPTE's new task force, said David Wertheimer, executive director of ETC, which was the official test site for the digital cinema standard set in 2005. The USC lab, founded in 1993 by "Star Wars" director George Lucas, has backing from a number of Hollywood studios as well as a handful of technology companies.
Separately, ETC is asking vendors to install their 3DTV systems in its content lab "so [studios] can have a place in Los Angeles where they can bring their to-be-released content to view it using existing and emerging 3-D displays, formats and technologies," said Wertheimer.
Europe hosts two government-funded 3DTV groups. The 3-D4YOU program aims to define capture, coding and format specifications for 3DTV. Launched in February, it includes the BBC, France Telecom, Philips and Thomson. The OSIRIS Project (Osiris stands for Original System for Image Rendition via Innovative Screens), has gathered nine companies including Barco and Thomson to explore 2-D and 3-D projection technologies in a nearly $19-million program slated to end in December 2009.
The Blu-ray Disc Association is quietly working on its position on stereo 3-D but has yet to make a public statement. Blu-ray disks could be the first way stereo 3-D content is delivered to the home, because broadcast methods generally lack the bandwidth required to send separate high-resolution images for left and right eyes.
Whoever sets the content standard, it must be backward compatible with today's 2-D capture, production and display systems, said Fox's Setos. "We want to send one stream of bits and have it decimated for either 2-D or 3-D viewing, just as we are moving to sending out only high-def video and letting terminals derive standard definition video from it."
Beyond the content work, systems makers need to set standards for reading the formats and displaying the content on various kinds of TVs and devices. The Consumer Electronics Association has called a meeting in Las Vegas Oct. 22 to determine whether it's time for members to set a 3DTV standard that could cover TVs, set-tops and Blu-ray players.
"I expect just about everybody who makes TVs, as well as some broadcasters, chip-set vendors and 3-D technology providers, will be there," said Brian Markwalter, vice president of technology and standards at CEA. "We want to see if this is the right time to create a standard or not, and there are arguments on both sides."
Fox's Setos cautioned against display standards at a time when new technologies such as OLEDs are still emerging. "We don't want to preclude any display innovations," he said.