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World Cup 2010 in 3D TV
Testing new technology
photo credit: © AFP
South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela waves as he arrives to attend the 2010 World Cup football final between the Netherlands and Spain on 11 July 2010 at the Soccer City stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg. At the opening ceremony, FIFA President Joseph Sepp Blatter; South African President Jacob Zuma; and 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu praised Mandela for his invaluable contribution to nationbuilding, and for throwing his support behind hosting the World Cup in Africa.
 
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Photo credit: © AFP

The 2010 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup, hosted by South Africa from 11 June to 11 July, was the first World Cup tournament to be held on African soil, and the first time that matches were produced in three-dimensional television (3D TV). It was also the first time Spain won the world trophy.

As one of the most popular sporting events in the world, the World Cup is watched by billions of people, thanks to the standards (“Recommendations”) for television formats agreed in ITU’s Radiocommunication Sector (ITU–R). These have made possible digital television and high-definition television (HDTV). According to a recent ITU report, by the end of 2009, there were some 1.4 billion households around the world with a television, providing some five billion people access to a television at home.

FIFA estimates that a cumulative audience of more than 26 billion people tuned in to watch the 64 matches of the tournament in the rainbow nation. All matches were transmitted in HDTV, and some 25 matches (see Table 1) were even broadcast using next-generation 3D technology as the result of a media rights agreement between FIFA and Sony Corporation of Japan, which was announced in December 2009. Sony’s broadcasting equipment for 3D was in use at five stadiums: Soccer City and Ellis Park in Johannesburg and the venues in Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

ITU and 3D TV

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But how does 3D technology work? And what challenges remain when it comes to ensuring that 3D TV transmission systems and sets are globally compatible and interoperable?

Three-dimensional imaging applies knowledge about the way humans see things. In contrast to 2D video, 3D video more closely resembles the way people sense space in real life.

The current technique applied for 3D TV is called stereoscopy; it creates a feeling of depth by showing slightly different pictures to each eye. Each eye's picture appears on the 3D TV screen, one after the other. Images are sent to each eye at a rate of around 50–60 images per second, making the process imperceptible to the viewer. Special glasses make sure each eye gets the picture intended for it.

To ensure that 3D TV sets made by different manufacturers will work anywhere in the world, so that consumers can buy with confidence, ITU–R Study Group 6 (which examines broadcasting services) brings experts together to develop and agree on common global standards for 3D TV broadcasting. Furthermore, ITU–R Study Group 6 is studying advanced concepts for 3D television that would allow an even more realistic 3D impression, without the need for glasses, and that would allow people to have different views within a three-dimensional space

Recognizing that radiocommunication broadcasting extends from the production of programmes to their delivery to the general public, ITU–R Study Group 6 studies those aspects related to production and radiocommunication end-to-end, including the international exchange of programmes as well as the overall quality of service.

A new dimension from the stadium

From the opening match on 11 June between South Africa’s national football team Bafana Bafana and Mexico (a match which ended in a 1–1 draw) to the final, with Spain’s 0–1 extra-time win over the Netherlands, the matches shot in 3D were intended to offer viewers “as-if-you-were-there” excitement.

However, not many people were equipped to watch these matches in 3D. At the time of writing this article, statistics for 3D viewers were not available. 3D TV still requires glasses for viewing, which may have put off potential viewers. The circular polarized glasses are mainly used in cinemas and are not considered suitable for home use because of the high cost of the special screens and projectors required. So most television manufacturers are focusing on active LCD shutter glasses.

In the United States, the cable sports network ESPN launched its first dedicated 3D channel “ESPN 3D” with a stereoscopic 3D broadcast of the opening match. Spain’s Sogecable, Japan’s Sky PerfecTV and the Republic of Korea’s SBS were among the other networks confirmed to broadcast matches in 3D. In some cities in Australia, viewers could watch matches on a special 3D trial channel co-launched by SBS and Channel 9. Generally, in countries where matches were broadcast in 3D and households were not equipped for 3D viewing, people had to go to cinema halls or other designated spots.

One lesson from the 2010 World Cup is that “great care needs to be taken in the production and delivery of 3D TV, especially for live transmissions,” says Christoph Dosch, Chairman of ITU–R Study Group 6 and General Manager of Collaborative Research at the Institut für Rundfunktechnik GmbH (IRT) in Munich, Germany.

Mr Dosch explains that “the art of making stereoscopic films is well known to Hollywood, where stereographers (a new profession!) tell the film director and the cameraman how to adjust the camera rig for each scene, how to do camera pans and how to model the continuation of the content between subsequent sequences. The predetermination of the settings of each scene is less possible in live shooting.” He adds that “consequently, some viewers of the 3D football television programmes experienced eye discomfort after extended periods of viewing. The stereoscopic signals from South Africa were a good testbed in view of future day-to-day operation of stereo 3D. But many problems still need to be solved. And ITU–R Study Group 6 is tackling some of these problems.”

Recalling ITU–R’s track record for agreeing standards for television formats, David Wood of the European Broadcasting Union in Geneva and Chairman of ITU–R Working Party 6C (on Programme production and quality assessment) comments that:

“Everyone wins with common standards, and it would be great if we could also agree on common standards in the area of 3D TV.” Mr Wood notes that whether it becomes ubiquitous or just used for special events, 3D TV is more likely to succeed if it is based on common standards — but will lose if the marketplace is fragmented.

 
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Photo credit: © AFP

Growth prospects for 3D TV

In a study published at the end of June 2010 when the football tournament had reached its half-way mark, IMS Research observed that many consumer equipment suppliers are deploying strategies that will bring more 3D devices into our homes. IMS Research estimates that 5.99 million 3D TV sets will be shipped worldwide in 2010 and that over 218 million will be shipped cumulatively from now until 2015.

Meanwhile, Analysys Mason, a market adviser on telecommunications, technology and media, points to the high cost of 3D TV sets, long television replacement cycles and lack of 3D content as barriers to rapid growth. The firm adds that “aside from consumer reluctance to wear glasses, significant barriers still need to be overcome before 3D TV becomes a mass market proposition. It says that “competing formats and technologies mean consumers may be unwilling to invest in a 3D TV until they know which will become the prevailing standard”.

Mr Dosch also notes that “at present, the number of alternative implementations of 3D TV is still large. And of course, as usual, everyone wants a common standard — as long as it is theirs.” Hopefully, by the time of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the standardization work under way in ITU–R Study Group 6 would have given birth to a common standard. This would help boost the uptake of 3D TV across the world.

 
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Photo credit: © AFP
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Photo credit: © AFP
"Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)"
The 2010 FIFA World Cup kick-off Celebration Concert, held at Soweto’s Orlando stadium on 10 June was broadcast across the world and showcased the talents of African and international musicians. The stadium was awash with flags from the 32 countries whose national teams had qualified for the tournament. The concert began with a local flavour as dancers and drummers set the rhythm, followed by music that included a rendition of the late Miriam Makeba’s international hit "Pata Pata". The international line-up included Colombian pop star Shakira, who performed the official song of the 2010 World Cup "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)" with South African band Freshlyground. She performed this song again at the closing ceremony (pictured here in the centre), which was broadcast live to an estimated audience of over 500 million viewers, according to FIFA.

 

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