SBJ/20100628/Opinion

Sports continues role of technology driver with 3-D telecasts

In the late 1990s, high-definition brought about picture enhancement equally as dramatic as the introduction of color television in the ’50s. The detail of HD represented a new frontier for sports broadcasting in particular. Now 3-D promises to bring viewers into a new dimension: the stadium, arena, or anywhere else athletes compete. 3-D’s capacity to transform the way fans engage with sports is driving the development of technologies for 3-D in the home.

Rights holders and networks are meeting the challenges of live 3-D sports production and using existing infrastructure to deliver 3-D content reliably and cost-effectively. As 3-D telecasts become increasingly available to the home, early adopters and tech-savvy sports, entertainment and gaming fans are ready to invest in 3-D home entertainment systems. A Deloitte study from January found that 38 percent of consumers would like to watch 3-D content at home, but the majority of consumers likely will wait for 3-D TV prices to drop. Display manufacturers already have begun incorporating 3-D capabilities into their high-end sets, and the trickle-down effect, which has made virtually every new TV HD-ready, will likewise introduce TVs with 3-D technology to the home theater environment.

3-D content requires viewers to use their eyes in a new way and wear glasses that some find uncomfortable, possibly even causing nausea, eye strain or headaches. While not trivial, these negative experiences haven’t hindered the success of 3-D in theaters. When buying for the home, consumers can minimize the negative effects of 3-D glasses by testing different models.

The necessity of 3-D glasses does make it more difficult to watch 3-D TV while using the Internet or doing other tasks, but it’s not a new issue for anyone accustomed to wearing glasses, and it’s unlikely to represent a real obstacle to watching 3-D TV. In the future, auto-stereoscopic TVs will address this concern by enabling glasses-free viewing of 3-D content from multiple viewpoints.

It’s simply not yet worthwhile to revamp production of day-to-day programming to suit 3-D, but live coverage of sports, with its action, intensity, personality and ability to engage viewers both physically and emotionally, presents a powerful impetus for launching 3-D telecasts. The depth of field in 3-D literally provides a new and improved perspective of players and the plays they make.

Though live 3-D telecasts are still new to the viewing public, sports networks have been testing the technology for several years. Leading the charge, ESPN unveiled the industry’s first 3-D network, which launched June 11 with the first 2010 FIFA World Cup match. DirecTV made 3-D available to millions of its customers this summer through a free software upgrade providing access to three dedicated 3-D channels.

Sports broadcasters have always been a driver of technological innovation, fueling the development of sports networks, such as the NFL, NHL and MLB networks and NBA TV, and pushing HD into the mainstream. The rise of 3-D is a technological leap that will give telecasters a powerful tool for selling sports fans a front-row seat to the world’s biggest sports events.

Joseph M. Cohen (JCohen@HTNCom.com) is chairman of the board and CEO of HTN Communications.

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