Chip and system makers say they can handle that job with new firmware in existing silicon. However they will need three months and sample video to write and test their components before systems will be ready to ship.
Broadcasters' networks lack the bandwidth to support a full 1,080-progressive image for both the left and right eye, so they cannot deliver the full high definition video seen on today's top TVs. They have been testing a variety of formats to pack two images into one frame to see which gives the best results on their networks. Those formats include multiple ways of putting two images side-by-side, over and under each other, using a checkerboard configuration or interleaving lines or columns.
"You can create so many permutations, it can be a mess," said David Broberg, the vice president of consumer video technology at CableLabs. "We have reduced it down to a preference for a single over/under format, are working with TV makers and content providers to settle on that and so far results have been positive," he added.
The over/under format is said to be royalty free. But satellite providers DirecTv and BskyB expect to use a side-by-side format.
RealD, which provides 3-D technology for the lion's share of theaters, says it has a fundamental patent on side-by-side. RealD announced partnership deals at CES with virtually all the top TV makers that involved licensing its technology on formats, glasses and other aspects of 3-D.
RealD's already announced 3-D format licensees include: Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, JVC and DirecTv.
"A number of top consumer companies have done due diligence on us and determined we have a patent" on side-by-side, said Josh Greer, president of RealD.
"This is a battle for intellectual property," added Rick Doherty, principal of market watcher Envisioneering Group (Seaford, N.Y.).
No doubt IP battles are raging all up and down the chain of 3-D TV technologies. To date the field lacks a patent pool, a weak spot in the business case for 3-D TV.
"The patent trolls will come out, they always do with a new technology," said David Naranjo, director of product development for Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America.
Beyond the obvious technology licensing issue, momentum is just what every 3-D technology supplier is looking for today. RealD, in terms of market perception, might have just accomplished that goal at this year's CES.
RealD believes it has built enough momentum to sweep the TV market with its technology for 3-D broadcasting. ,RealD's Koji Hase, president of worldwide consumer electronics said, "The industry can now see a thread -- content, delivery and display -- all using our 3-D technology."
While standardization for 3-D broadcast formats over satellite, cable and terrestrial TV is far from set, RealD's Hase said, "This won't be a decision by a committee. Three-D will be a de facto standard that will be embraced by industry groups."
Advantages of RealD's 3-D technology are that it is "display agnostic," meaning that it works with any display type. Moreover, it works either with polarized glasses or active shutter glasses, according to Hase. Most important, he added, "It's implementable in existing infrastructure."
The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) started an effort in June to set a standard for 3-D distribution formats. However, given the competitive issues, some say de facto standards will be set by the marketplace.
Whatever format emerges, many observers said consumers may not even notice the resolution downgrade in the 3-D broadcast content. Silicon and systems engineers said they may be able to use resolution enhancement techniques to help make up for the shortfall.
Ultimately broadcasters expect to expand their bandwidth and move to new codecs such as the MPEG-4 multiview codec (MVC) widely seen as the optimal solution for stereo 3-D. But such a migration will take several years and cost billions.
It would take twice the bandwidth of today's satellite set-top boxes to support 60 frames/second of 1,080p content, said Brian Lenz, director of product design at BskyB. "You will not see that in next few years," he said.
Broberg of CableLabs said many cable TV set tops now support 1080p at 24 frames per second. Within two years many could be upgraded to 60 frames per second.
Terrestrial broadcasters have the biggest hurdles because they have even less bandwidth to work with than satellite and cable companies. However ATSC, which manages the U.S. terrestrial standard, has given 3-D support a back seat as it tries to get its mobile broadcasting technology off the ground in the next two years.