Intelsat, HBO Downplay 3D Television Impact on Bandwidth Demand

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NEW YORK Satellite fleet operator Intelsat and U.S television broadcaster HBO on Oct. 14 said the market adoption of 3D television will not produce a major spike in demand for bandwidth compared with high-definition and standard-definition television.

In remarks here during the Satcon conference organized by JD Events, Intelsat Chief Executive David McGlade and HBO Chief Technology Officer Robert Zitter said that image compression technologies and other means of reducing bandwidth demands will compensate for the extra bandwidth associated with 3D TV.

McGlade and Zitter came at the topic from different viewpoints. Intelsat’s business — the Luxembourg- and Washington-based company generates 31 percent of its revenue from television distribution — would stand to benefit from the rollout of 3D.

One of Intelsat’s principal competitors, SES of Luxembourg, which is more heavily reliant on television as a revenue base, has estimated that 3D will require perhaps 30 percent more bandwidth than high-definition television. Add to that the fact that programmers may be obliged to broadcast in at least two formats to accommodate viewers still using standard-definition televisions, and 3D has been viewed as a potential bonanza for satellite operators.

McGlade disagreed. “What we need to do is stop overselling and underperforming with new technologies,” he said. “We could see some incremental capacity devoted to this, but I remember when going from standard to high definition was supposed to result in a huge increase in bandwidth demand. Technologies catch up and the result has been little increase. The same will be true of 3D. The bandwidth increase is really only marginal.”

McGlade said the exact bandwidth requirements will depend on which 3D technology a broadcaster uses, frame compatible or high-resolution. Ultimately, he said, “it is not a game-changer for satellite capacity.”

Zitter, whose company would be facing higher satellite costs and is thus interested in reducing 3D bandwidth requirements, said HBO is determined not to repeat the double-broadcast experience it encountered when high definition was entering the market alongside standard definition.

“We’re not going to end up letting it eat up a lot of bandwidth,” Zitter said. “We are not going to go down the road from SD to HD to 3D” in broadcasting simultaneously in multiple formats. “It’s not there. Frame compatible has slightly lower [3D] resolution. It will be slightly higher than HD, but not much.”

Another issue with 3D, Zitter said, is that if the broadcast is not handled correctly, the results are disastrous. “If you do an HD program wrong, you get a slightly poorer-quality picture,” Zitter said. “If you do 3D wrong, people get sick.”

HBO for now is not producing many of its own shows in 3D, but is offering viewers 3D films as part of its HBO On Demand service. The network also is not broadcasting live sporting events, where dual-format feeds may be more of an issue.

U.S.-based sports broadcaster ESPN has been testing 3D for some time now and still views it as “a science experiment,” said Anthony Bailey, the network’s vice president for emerging technology. ESPN has had 3D broadcasts of some 100 events so far, and is still learning how to adapt to the new format.

SES has been active in industry groups seeking to create 3D standards, and the company has created a 3D industry test platform by keeping three transponders on the AMC-9 satellite, at 83 degrees west longitude, available for the tests. Broadcasters are guaranteed anonymity to use the platform to test distribution infrastructures and their impact on 3D content, SES World Skies Chief Technology Officer Alan Young said here Oct. 13.

“3D production is much more complex than HD,” Young said. “But bad 3D is much, much worse than bad HD, and it’s very easy to produce bad 3D — and really hard to do it well. After carefully producing good 3D, it is still possible to turn it into bad 3D by over compressing it. The lack of end-to-end standards needs to be corrected. The sooner that’s done, the better.”