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Orange opens with 3D

No ‘wait and see’ attitude to 3DTV evident from the IPTV operator: its new service opened in late May with coverage of the French Open Tennis at Roland Garros and also showcased the first live broadcast of Panasonic’s groundbreaking dual lens camcorder, reports Adrian Pennington

No ‘wait and see’ attitude to 3DTV evident from the IPTV operator: its new service opened in late May with coverage of the French Open Tennis at Roland Garros and also showcased the first live broadcast of Panasonic’s groundbreaking dual lens camcorder, reports Adrian Pennington

With a content business growing in the double digits each year, and a stated aim to be more than just a utility to its customers, Orange is one of the few IPTV operators to be taking 3DTV seriously enough to be putting it into operation now — rather than adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach.

However the launch of its new 3DTV channel is not without caveats. “We don’t have enough content to launch a full 3DTV channel and that’s why we are calling it a dedicated 3D service,” explains Ghislaine Le Rhun Gautier, Orange 3D project director. “The objective is to show occasional events such as football, live performances like circus or ballet, documentaries and a 3D promo reel as the market builds.”

Movies will come later after the rights to air new 3D feature film content come to VoD after their release on Blu-ray.

The telco’s 8.9 million broadband customers in France have the potential to view this 3D content for free, delivered via DSL and fibre, so long as they have a 3DTV and at least 8 Mbps which pretty much excludes those without the higher downstream speeds facilitated by fibre connections.

Raoul Roverato, executive vice-president of New Growth Businesses at Orange indicated that of the other markets where Orange is present, Poland could be the next target for 3D rollout. This won’t happen this year he said, but suggested that the Euro 2012 football tournament hosted in Poland and the Ukraine could be the perfect launch pad for such a channel. Importantly for the company it has beat rival Canal+ to market. Canal+ signalled its intent to launch around Christmas 2010.

The channel’s debut coincided with coverage of the French Open Tennis Grand Slam. With all the matches on the main Philippe Chatrier court aired this laid claim to be the first European multi-day sporting tournament to be broadcast live in 3D.

3D operation at Roland Garros
Intriguingly the workflow applied by Orange, in partnership with host broadcaster France Télévisions, through the UK’s Can Communicate, was virtually identical to that planned for the stereoscopic broadcast of the World Cup in South Africa. Perhaps that’s no surprise given that Can are technical consultants to both 3D projects. Orange said that they had worked with NHK and 3ality on previous trials.

At Roland Garros the court was covered with five 3D camera positions, four of them featuring HDC1500s and Canon lenses mounted on Element Technica Quasar rigs. “We had three mirror rigs shooting through with a full body 1500 and under the mirror with a T-block configuration,” explains Can Communicate stereographer Richard Hindley who is one of two lead stereographers for HBS in South Africa. “Another Quasar was arrayed side by side overlooking the court where there’s more room.”

The signals were each fed through an MPE-200 3D Processor for lens alignment with the images viewed on monochrome monitor by one of four convergence pullers. In the dedicated 3D truck, Hindley and Can Communicate colleague John Perry monitored the output, directed the convergence pullers and advised the director. A pair of EVS machines provided 3D replays, post correction by the stereographers.

“We were working within a 2.5% depth budget for shots pulled behind the screen plane and about .5% for shots in negative parrallax,” explains Hindley. “We have to be a little conservative because we are conscious of consistency for both small and large screens.” The men’s final was broadcast live in 3D to select cinemas by the Federation Francaise de Tennis and France Televisions though Orange was not involved.

All that technology is the same as is being applied to the World Cup 3D coverage. The one significant difference was the use of Panasonic’s twin-lens AG-3DA1 integrated 3D camcorder. Orange Labs’ R&D division had been playing with prototypes for a month and originally intended to test on ENG material at Roland Garros but ended up placing it as one of the five main courtside positions.

“We worked with Panasonic to develop new functions for the camera,” explained Orange TV’s Jerome Fournier. “These include an in-camera notification to the camera-operator of the limits within which they could pull focus on foreground and background objects without creating eye discomfort.”

A tracking shot using the lightweight camcorder suspended from an aerial cable tracking 28 metres above the court was also trialed. “We were surprised by how good these were considering the movement on the cable,” said Roverato. “We were impressed by the stability and clarity of the images which is why we used them for some of the live action.” Nonetheless aerial shots during the tournament were converted from 2D from a conventional HD aerialcam using JVC’s IF-2D3D1 box.

The on-court AG-3DA1 was positioned facing a VIP section of the crowd, capturing cut-away reaction, because it was not initially deemed suitable for coverage of the match in action. However during the second week of the tournament the crew did experiment with shots of the on-court action using the AG-3DA1 and some of these were transmitted.

“We had some problems matching the colorimetry on the Panasonic with that of the other four cameras, but other than that it’s worked really well,” Hindley said. The broadcast was transmitted in a side-by-side configuration at 1080i. Japanese broadcaster Wowwow and Al Jazeera also took the 3D feed from Orange.

“We are investing Euro 2bn between now and 2015 on deployment of 100Mbps FTTH and we associate 3D with that superior experience,” added Le Rhun Gautier. “We are an innovating group and in 3D we have been pioneers.”

Orange owns rights to French Ligue 1 and delivered a live broadcast in 3D of the Ligue 1 match between OL and PSG last year, beating BSkyB’s live 3D football premiere by a year. However Roverato said that Ligue 1 would not be covered in 3D next season because the costs were prohibitive.

“3DTV is at least five years from becoming mainstream,” he says. “The new channel is more of a marketing initiative to show the platform’s potential and accustom consumers to the idea of watching content in 3D.”

He added that Orange is investing a few million euros each year in commissioning and delivering 3D content. It may also swap content with BSkyB.

“They have content, we need content and they may want some of ours so it makes sense for us to co-operate to create a new market by exchanging content,” says Le Rhun Gautier. “It’s Important for us to be in the market now in order to try and create the market by bringing live events and other highlights to people and showing them the difference 3D can make.”