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Sensio: Bringing 3D to online video

April 21, 2009 |  2:42 pm

Sensio Technologies showed off live 3D video streaming through the Internet at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas today, providing yet another illustration of how 3D technology is moving from the theater to the home -- albeit with some nontrivial hurdles yet to cross.

In the demo, a high-definition video feed from a stereoscopic camera in NAB's International Datacasting Booth streamed to a computer in the booth, which compressed it into Sensio's format and again into MPEG-4. It then traveled via Internet Protocol to another computer in the booth, which displayed the video on a 3D-ready high-def screen. Viewers who donned a pair of special glasses saw the video in clear and convincing digital 3D; without the glasses, the images were blurred to the point where they were barely recognizable.

Felician Farcutiu, an audiovisual technician for Sensio, said the transmissions require about 5 Mbps of bandwidth at most -- no more than a 2D high-def stream of similar quality. That's at the upper edge of many home DSL connections, but those speeds are likely to increase as consumers tune in more high-def video online. And the technique can work with any type of screen -- Sensio's software on the computer can convert the signal to match the screen and the glasses worn by the user. Polarized screens require polarized glasses, checkerboard screens work with shutterglass lenses, and conventional screens work with colored lenses (e.g, one lens red, the other blue).

The limiting factor is the computer software required to view the 3D streams. Sensio has but one licensee today -- Arcsoft -- which sells the 3D video player as part of a photo and video software suite. There's the usual chicken-and-egg problem; content providers won't be interested in delivering 3D streams until there are lots of people who can view them, but software makers won't be interested in distributing the technology until there's plenty of content to be consumed. But Farcutiu suggested that online games would be an important driver, given the obvious appeal of 3D to gamers. Beyond that, the computer screen seems a more natural first stop for 3D in the home. Online video is more of a lean-in experience, and consumers can obtain a 3D-ready computer screen for a much smaller investment than a 3D-ready TV.

Sensio spokeswoman Magali Valence said the goal is to enable live programming to be presented in 3D simultaneously online and over the air. The company has already participated in one such event: a performance by the British band Keane, which was carried live to viewers in a London theater, to homes with satellite TV and via the Internet. It's not clear that many people actually watched the concert in full 3D glory -- setting aside the fact that the band was Keane, the transmission required a special set-top box or PC software. Yet it's easy to imagine what might happen if the software found its way into wide distribution -- say, if a popular tech company started building 3D capabilities into its media player. Studios might suddenly have a reason to make their 3D blockbusters available for streaming on demand with all their dimensions intact.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.