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Strictly Come Dancing in 3D: the facts

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Apparently some Brits are keen on the BBC's playground for sparkly attired hoofers, Strictly Come Dancing, which comes to its latest grand final this Saturday.

Tech watchers have an interest too: it's one of the first BBC shows to be transmitted in 3D via Freeview HD.

Don't want to miss the 'action'? Gone Digital's Nigel Whitfield has all the details you need to know.

During last Saturday’s show, the presenters of Strictly Come Dancing made much of the fact that the final will be broadcast in 3D. A look at the comments on the website for the show reveals that quite a lot of viewers are rather confused about whether or not they’ll be able to watch in high definition, so here’s my attempt at clarifying what’s happening.

I don’t have a 3D set. Will I still be able to watch Strictly in High Definition?

Yes. The normal BBC One HD broadcast will still be happening, so you won’t miss out. The 3D broadcast is on a completely different channel.

I don’t have HD. Can I still watch in 3D?

Only if you go to one of the cinemas that’s showing 3D, or if you buy a 3D receiver (like a Freeeview or Sky HD box) and install it before the weekend, and have a 3D TV. Because 3D needs two pictures – one for each eye – it’s not possible to transmit 3D without using an HD channel, and still maintain good picture quality.

I don’t understand! How can it be in 2D and 3D at the same time?

I think a lot of confusion here comes down to the BBC referring to “The BBC HD Channel” when they’re talking about 3D. There are actually two high definition channels from the BBC; one is BBC One HD, which shows whatever is on BBC One, but in high definition, and the other is just called BBC HD, or “the BBC HD Channel”, and carries a selection of programmes from other channels including, next weekend, the 3D version of Strictly Come Dancing. So what’s on, where?

Here’s the quick summary:

BBC One, standard definition: The ordinary version of Strictly Come Dancing; find this on Freeview 1, Sky 101, Virgin 101, Freesat 101, or on analogue if you’ve not yet switched over.

BBC One HD: The high definition version of Strictly Come Dancing, in old fashioned 2D. Just like every week. Find this on Freeview 50, Freesat or Virgin 108, Sky 143.

BBC HD: The 3D, high definition version of Strictly. Find this on Freeview 54, Virgin 187, Freesat 109, Sky 169.

What do I need to watch in 3D?

You’ll need a 3D television and access to the BBC HD channel; try the channel numbers I’ve listed above, and see if you get BBC HD. If you do, and your TV is 3D, then put on your glasses, tune in on Saturday night, and you’re all set – your TV should automatically recognise the 3D transmission. If it doesn’t, press the 3D button on the remote, and if you have to pick a ’3D format’, choose ‘Side by side.’

Many 3D televisions will have a built in receiver for Freeview HD; if that’s not available in your area, you’ll need either Sky, Virgin or Freesat, and an HD receiver for one of those services.

Will the 3D broadcast be exactly the same as the normal one?

It’s likely to be slightly different, with some different camera angles – different cameras are used for 3D, and some sorts of shots will work better in one format than another. So, expect there to be some differences between the two.

Will I be able to record the 3D show?

Yes. If you have a digital TV recorder, like Sky+, Freesat+ or Freeview+ HD, then just record the show on the BBC HD channel (see the numbers above), and you’ll be able to watch the 3D broadcast later, just as if you were watching it live.

Why isn’t it in a cinema near me?

Lots of the comments on the BBC site seem to suggest this is poor planning by the BBC, but it’s important to remember a couple of things. First, broadcasting in 3D is still pretty experimental, and secondly, not all cinemas are set up for live 3D, even if they can show feature films in 3D.

Feature films are sent out on hard disks, or downloaded to the cinema in advance, and then shown many times. The Strictly final will be live, and so can only be shown in cinemas that have a suitable link to receive live shows and broadcast them directly to the screen, which not all will be set up to do.

Ultimately, whether or not a cinema is set up for that will depend on the company that owns it, not on the BBC, who can’t pay to install equipment in someone else’s commercial premises. If your local cinema isn’t showing the final, then tell them you’re disappointed. It won’t make a difference this week, but they might realise that there is a market for future events to be shown that way. If you don’t tell them, or just complain about the BBC, your local cinema isn’t going to know they’re missing out on business by not investing in the right equipment.

How does the 3D system work?

For those interested in the technical side, the 3D broadcast will use a system called ‘side by side’. If you tune in to the BBC HD channel and don’t have a 3D set, what you’ll actually see is that the screen has two almost identical pictures, squeezed into the frame. A 3D TV recognises this, and shows one at a time, zoomed to fill the whole screen, and controls the timing with the 3D glasses so that the left eye sees the pictures on the left, and the right eye sees the ones on the right.

One of the consequences of this is that each picture actually has only has as much information as the normal HD picture, because it has to fit into half the screen; you probably won’t notice a massive difference, but that’s why 3D is always used with HD channels – if you tried it on a standard definition one, you’d really notice the difference. ®

First published at Gone Digital, Nigel Whitfield's telly tech blog.

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