Will 3D Lead to a Bandwidth Crunch?

Carl Weinschenk

The next big thing is on the very verge of becoming the current big thing. 3D television is here.


Signs are everywhere The pump was primed by a run of 3D movies, including the popular animated feature Up and, of course, the blockbuster Avatar.


The next wave is beginning to hit home. 3D will increasingly be seen in home entertainment programming. Sports is always big when a mass video-related platform emerges, and 3D is no exception. People will get to root against the Yankees in more depth starting on July 10 and 11 at Safeco Field in Seattle, when YES Network, FSN Northwest and DirecTV broadcast a game in 3D. The All-Star game from Anaheim, scheduled for July 13, also will be in 3D. Likewise, Broadband Genie says that Sony will release a 3D set in time for the World Cup, which kicks off in South Africa on June 11. Informa, in research released this week, mentions that 25 of the soccer matches will be broadcast in 3D.


This is just the tip of the iceberg. Many other 3D programming initiatives are under way.

Informa laid out a plausible and seemingly conservative worldwide adoption rate for 3D. Commentary from Principal Analyst Simon Murray in the press release suggests that the projected five-year total-more than 20 million homes-"seems quite low." He implies that the real growth will happen in the period after 2015. Nonetheless, the 5-million-home figure represents 1.6 percent of the world's total. The U.S. will lead with 9.2 million, western Europe will have 6.8 million and Asia Pacific 4.6 million.


Nothing comes for free, including 3D images, and it is clear that this format will consume a tremendous amount of bandwidth. Indeed, 3D figures to be one of the main culprits when analysts and other observers discuss the looming bandwidth crunch. In a way, it may be serendipitous that the 3D world is getting off to a slow start, despite its high profile. This will enable wired and wireless network providers to build in enough bandwidth.


This DSL Reports story from early in the year, which looks at the ways in which 3D signals will be sliced and diced on a 6 MHz cable channel, is illustrative of the kind of thinking that should be going on in satellite and telco circles as well. How can all of these signals be transported economically, especially considering that initial uptake will be low?


3D will be a disruptive technology. It is tempting to say it will be so only on the consumer side. That's not so, however. Remember that technologies that kicked off in the consumer sector, such as smartphones, Wi-Fi and high definition, invariably find their way to the office. The best comparison for 3D probably is HD, which now is part of most telepresence offerings.


The other reason businesses should think about 3D is that the bandwidth pool being drawn from is the same one they dip into for connectivity. A big change in demand-no matter what the reason-clearly is something of which they should be cognizant.

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