Live From London: Panasonic, OBS Present Largest 3D Offering to Date

3D entertainment continues to be a polarizing topic among consumers and industry professionals alike, but there’s no denying that 3D-production technologies are advancing at a rapid pace and content is becoming more readily available than ever.

As part of its London Olympics coverage, NBC is offering the first 3D Olympics, churning out as much as 300 hours of programming to homes, bars, and clubs across the country.

As an Olympic sponsor, Panasonic is supporting the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) with three OB trucks, 20 3D rigs, and 30 ENG cameras. Available in 20 countries, the London Olympics is the most widely taken 3D program ever, both domestically and internationally.

“Not bad for Year 3,” smiled Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, chief technology officer at Panasonic, referencing the company’s dive into the market as he sat down with Sports Video Group during a 3D-viewing party in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday.

The production workflow is relatively straightforward because the OBS produces the 3D show and sends the feed to a list of recipients, including NBC’s London base. From there, it is streamed to the Comcast Media Center in Colorado for distribution to American cable providers.

According to Panasonic representatives, the OBS, which admittedly has limited experience in producing 3D, has been getting the hang of things since the Olympics began last week.

“You can see the 3D quality improving with each run,” praised Ed Kohler, principal, Operations and Integrations Technology and Corporate Development Group, Panasonic North America. “The convergence and parallax are getting better every day. We are getting some absolutely beautiful shots.”

While the camera technology makes it possible to take a 2D and a 3D feed from the same camera into the production truck, Tsuyuzaki noted that nearly all of the camera angles used during the Olympics will be 3D-exclusive angles. Among the Olympic events that will be broadcast on the 3D channel are the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, diving, swimming, gymnastics, track and field, and medal-round men’s and women’s basketball.

Distribution of the temporary 3D channel has been strong, with approximately 80% of U.S. households having access — some of the major cable providers that have picked up the service include Verizon FiOS, Time Warner, DIRECTV, Comcast, Cox, and Cablevision. In addition, Panasonic estimates that about 7 million homes currently host a 3D-capable television set and that 70% of its current product line is 3D-capable.

“Now, whether they are using it or not is another question,” Tsuyuzaki acknowledged. “We aren’t forcing it upon anyone. We’re offering the best product we can.”

Tsuyuzaki believes that the current state of the 3D industry is at “the end of the beginning,” meaning that 3D is on the cusp of making the critical transition from gimmick to established norm.

“When you start to see scripted dramas in 3D,” he said, “then you know we really have something.”

Tsuyuzaki remains bullish on 3D and sees a strong future for the service after what he considers to be a bounce-back year.

“In the back half of 2011, the industry really bottomed out,” he noted. “I think now we are seeing an adjustment in the supply chain, and the industry as a whole is getting better from it.”

He also doesn’t see the looming emergence of 4K as a threat to trumping 3D in popularity.

“4K can really be complementary to what we do; I don’t see them as two different things,” he said. “Also, 4K is still incredibly difficult to distribute. You’d have a hard time finding many people who are going to buy a $20,000 4K set right now.”

Tsuyuzaki also acknowledged that glasses-free 3D is still a work in progress but added that the company’s third-generation glasses — weighing just 0.9 oz. and featuring dual 2D view and faster recharge speeds — were a major enhancement. A more immediate offering for those anticipating glasses-free 3D will likely come the way of single-view autostereo 3D on tablets and smartphones.

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