For broadcast (over-the-air), the situation is more complex, as the ATSC standard is MPEG2-based, with a bitrate limit of around 19 Mb/S—enough for 2D high def, but insufficient for a comparable 3D HD program. At the show, an MPEG Industry Forum group had their first 3D over MPEG working group meeting, outlining the challenges that still need to be addressed. Current HDTV infrastructure can only support “half-HD” 3D resolution, and issues such as inserting 2D graphics into a 3D program present additional challenges.
The HDMI 1.4 specification provides for, among other things, the increased bitrate that 3D in high definition demands by providing an additional channel link. What’s not yet clear is the degree of compatibility with existing HDMI 1.3-class gear. Sony announced that they’ll provide a software upgrade for their popular PS3 platform that will provide the necessary 3D over HDMI capability via emulation, and similarly DirecTV announced that they too will stream a system upgrade for their HD satellite receiver boxes. There’s already a large installed body of HDMI 1.3-class A/V receivers and pre-amp/processors out there, and it remains to be seen if some, any or none of these components will be able to handle a 3D signal over HDMI.
Some HDMI cables that are rated at the 1.3 HDMI spec might actually be capable of passing 3D, as that spec provided for an additional unused pin. If the cable manufacturer used that pin, then the cable itself could be 3D capable, but again, it remains to be seen if some, any or none of the current HDMI 1.3 cables out there will indeed pass 3D content unscathed.
Should I Buy Or Should I Wait?
If you’ve got your heart set on a spiffy new HD flat panel for the Super Bowl (only in 2D this year, sorry) and have cash burning in your wallet to buy it right away, consider three important factors: first, 3DTV is not quite yet out of the gate; second, 3DTVs will surely carry a price premium over comparable 2D models; and third, 3D content availability will be sparse at best for some time.
If 3D in the cinema doesn’t turn your crank, then go ahead and get that 2D set. Upcoming Blu-ray 3D movie releases will include a 2D version, which may also be comforting.
If you’re a hardcore 3D movie buff and you really enjoy the 3D cinema experience, it might make sense to hold off until you’ve had a chance to gauge the 3DTV experience in stores, once announced models become available over the coming months.
Of course, we’ll be itching to get our hands on actual production 3D HDTVs as soon as they’re available, and we can foresee that 3D display and other 3D-related equipment reviews will constitute at least a good chunk of our product review schedule going forward.