The first regular television transmissions in 3D, or at least stereoscopic vision, could be on air sooner than you might imagine. Sky has been experimenting with the technology for a while and hopes to launch services once displays are commercially available, which could be as early as next year. Now there is an urgent need for standardisation.

Satellite broadcaster Sky has been investigating 3DTV for the past year or so and demonstrating it to the industry. 3D cinema is already a reality. Major studios are committed to producing 3D movies, particularly using digital animation.

Sky aims to deliver a similar experience direct to the home, using existing set-top boxes, although it will require a new screen and special glasses. Sky is looking to build a library of programming in the areas of arts and general entertainment, as well as sport and movies.

Chris Johns, chief engineer of broadcast services at Sky, told a meeting of television industry engineers in London that there was a need to work with consumer electronics companies. “We know we can do it. It’s just finding the best way to make it happen more swiftly,” he said. “It needs to be simple and cost-effective, especially in the current climate.”

The Digital TV Group will conduct an open industry consultation, asking stakeholders for their views on the technological feasibility and viability of 3DTV.

“Some industry observers regard 3DTV as a natural, evolutionary next step for HDTV. However, numerous challenges exist across the value chain, from image acquisition, storage and post-production, to distribution, reception and display,” according to the DTG. “These challenges need to be understood and overcome in order to make 3DTV a feasible and viable consumer proposition.”

The DVB also announced that it is establishing a working party to assess emerging standards. There are currently many different approaches for broadcasting 3DTV. The European Broadcasting Union is planning to hold a workshop to discuss standards in April.

While the technical requirements involved in delivering stereoscopic video are relatively well understood, there is still some way to go in appreciating how it is perceived by viewers. Many current production techniques may need to be adapted for 3DTV, from camerawork, to editing, to graphics. So this is not simply a matter for the engineers.

It seems likely that 3DTV could be a commercial reality by the next Olympics in London in 2012, if not sooner.