What we're doing

Recent set top boxes and Smart TVs are equipped with embedded 3D graphics processing units (GPUs) enabling them to generate high quality rendered 3D graphics. We’ve created a range of prototype applications for a set top box which demonstrate how this 3D graphics hardware can be used.

Some of these prototypes display 3D models in a similar way to computer games or films with computer generated (CG) graphics. The shark in the image above is rendered from a 3D model and placed on top of the video content. Other prototypes we have created show how more subtle effects can be applied to broadcast TV programmes using the GPU; these could be used for accessibility or personalisation.

Why it matters

In the near future, connected TVs will be capable of doing much more than just iPlayer and simple social media or game apps.

We want to make use of the 3D graphics capabilities of connected TVs to create new experiences for our viewers. To do this we need to understand the capabilities of the current hardware and ensure we have a consistent interface through which we can exploit these capabilities.

This project ensures that the BBC keeps up to date with the progress in this area. The prototypes are used to show both creative and technical staff what will be possible in the near future. Experience gained from this work is fed back to standards groups and device manufacturers.

Our goals

  • Investigate application environments for cross-platform 3D graphics
  • Develop prototype applications to test hardware and demonstrate use cases
  • Understand the performance of connected TV devices
  • Inform other areas of the BBC

How it works

Using a set top box reference platform, we explored how applications using 3D graphics hardware could be created. We looked for portability, performance, ease of use and open standards.

Some of the options available were:

We developed a number of prototype applications using C++; these focused on high performance and interaction with video. These prototypes included:

  • A surround video player which uses a carefully created mesh and video texturing to distort and wrap video.
  • A shader based live TV filter allowing various colour modifying filters to be applied to improve accessibility for viewers with visual impairments.

We also developed several browser based prototypes using WebGL:

  • Red Button style interactive content – the 3D shark model in the image above is animated and controlled by the viewer while the programme continues in the background.
  • An interactive Electronic Programme Guide which displays a timeline of programmes as 3D objects.
  • A player for free-viewpoint video content


The free-viewpoint and surround video players help validate our earlier work and prove that delivery of these types of content to the home via connected TV devices is now possible.

The WebGL prototypes have shown that with GPU functions exposed through the WebGL API, 3D applications can run on limited devices even with the overheads of JavaScript and the browser environment. This is important because many connected TV devices now use HTML5 based web applications and do not provide access to run native C++ code for portability and device security reasons.

This work has highlighted opportunities for the future when more TVs will be capable of rendering 3D graphics. Content creators across the BBC can now start to think how to use this technology to deliver new experiences to audiences.


People & Partners

Project Team