I was lucky enough to be invited by Sky to come to the ATP tennis finals at the O2 last week. But it wasn't just a jolly – I took a behind-the-scenes look at Sky's hugely impressive trials of live 3DTV coverage. The evening included a tour which took in courtside 3D cameras and a visit to the Outside Broadcast control centre, where the illusion of depth is created.
3DTV tech: polarising versus Active Shutter
To create the effect of 3D, a television needs to send a slightly different image to both of your eyes - and there are different ways to do this. Last year I was one of the first journalists in the world to witness the first round of Sky's cutting-edge 3D trials, which used the polarising technology also used in cinematic 3DTV to send a different picture to your left and right eye (you can see my video of Sky's first 3DTV trials here). The benefit of this type of 3DTV is that the glasses only cost a few pounds, so it doesn't matter if the dog eats a pair. But the screen need a special polarising filter that adds around £200 to the price of a screen.
More recently, Sony announced its own 3DTV system, which uses 'active' glasses that have shutters to rapidly alternate the images that your left and right eye see. This technology requires a TV with double the standard refresh rate - something that is already happening with the arrival of 120Hz displays. But they also require glasses with built-in shutter technology, which cost around £40 each, and a wireless system for synchronising the TV with the glasses.
A third system, pioneered by Philips, uses tiny ridges in the screen to eliminate the need for glasses altogether. However, the costs of these 'lenticular' displays are so prohibitive that Philips has now halted development altogether.
Sky 3DTV will be platform agnostic
While Sky still seems to favour the passive glasses system, it claims that its 3DTV service will be platform agnostic: it will use existing broadcast technologies (including the current Sky HD box) to deliver two pictures to a TV - one for the left eye, one for the right. All the TV manufacturers have to do is to process those two pictures to give the illusion of 3D.
We're likely to hear a whole lot more about 3DTV at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in January 2010. Stay tuned to Stuff for updates - and if you want to know more, check out the special 3D issue of Stuff, on sale now.