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World standards body maps out 3D TV generations

From stereoscopy to holography

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Standards setter the International Telecommuncations Union (ITU) has established a far-reaching roadmap for 3D TV technology, though it admits it will take at least 20 years for its more advanced notions to be realised.

The ITU's roadmap, announced today, defines the next three generations of 3D TV, kicking off with today's stereoscopic technology and taking us to holographic images.

Unsurprisingly, it can't yet say how the latter is to be achieved, but you can't blame it for at least paving the way for such advanced image recording. All three generations, however, will be viewed using two-dimensional displays.

Pragmatically, the focus of the ITU Radiocommunications Study Group 6 is stereoscopic 3D in which separate left- and right-eye HD images are transmitted alternately and special glasses ensure the correct eye sees the correct picture.

The Group will work to define a series of "globally agreed" standards to which equipment manufacturers, film makers and broadcasters can adhere. But the organisation said the technology will be just as applicable to other areas where visual content can be enhanced into a third dimension. Air traffic control, for example.

Today's 3D TV pictures don't change when you move your point of view, but the ITU said the next generation of the technology will enable just that. It will require the transmission of multiple 3D images in parallel, each view selected as the playback system tracks the motion of the viewer.

Like the 3D TVs demo'd at last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, second-gen tellies will need to be paired with special spectacles.

Looking further ahead, the ITU also defined the third generation of the 3D TV technology as "systems that record the amplitude, frequency and phase of light waves, to reproduce almost completely human beings' natural viewing environment".

Since any hologram can be represented mathematically, it can also be stored and transmitted as data. But even with a 1080p resolution, that's going to require some fearsome transmission bandwidth and data-compression technology. But it does mean that, like conventional still-image holography, you won't need special glasses to view 3D pictures.

Alas, beyond the 15-20 year wait for the techniques that will make 3G 3D TV work, the ITU didn't say much about its the timeframes in which it is anticipating successive generations will emerge. ®

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