SBJ/20100628/SBJ In-Depth

Here’s what I see in 3-D

When I was at ESPN’s headquarters earlier this month for the World Cup start and ESPN 3D channel debut, a fairly ridiculous scene emerged. Writing on my laptop during that South Africa-Mexico opening match, I was alternating frequently between using  the 3-D glasses to watch the game, fully engrossed in the action, and resting them on top of my head to continue writing.

At one point, with the 3-D glasses perched on my head, pen dangling out of my mouth, and thumbing through my notes, an ESPN PR rep walked by and chuckled at my ham-fisted attempt to bridge the worlds of 3-D absorption and ordinary work. There wasn’t much I could say in response. It was a scene I had repeated more than a dozen other times over the past three years at various 3-D TV exhibitions.

3-D TV is really best thought of like going to the movies. At the cinema, the room is dark, there’s not much talking and there are requests to shut off mobile devices. The best 3-D TV experiences I’ve had have come when I’ve resisted all urges to do other things as well, and simply watched.


That, of course, runs counter to the social nature of sports fandom; the traditional in-home sports TV experience; and the heavy multitasking that now happens in concert with TV. But until 3-D develops to the point — glasses or no glasses — where people can easily drift back and forth to and from the action, there is going to be impairment in its growth.

When taken as an all-in experience, however, 3-D TV has advanced considerably in the last couple of years. Gone are most of the image ghosting and headache-inducing camera shifts. Effective viewing angles have widened so that one need not be locked in strictly in front of the middle of the screen. And TV directors are learning how to incorporate more of the close, low shots that produce more of the full 3-D effect into live game broadcasts.

That shift in directorial thinking — also forced in part by an inability to supplant camera positions established for primary 2-D productions — has created a situation where some sports naturally translate much better than others to 3-D.

3-D glasses are a problem for viewers
trying to multitask.

Soccer and golf are particularly well-suited, with lots of open, green space and the ability to get cameras very close to the action. Basketball also does reasonably well in 3-D. Hockey has the challenge of the posts that support the glass around the ice, which can obstruct full 3-D views. But there is potential in that sport, too.

America’s two most popular spectator sports, baseball and football, face perhaps the greatest challenges in 3-D. Each sport has been shot for TV in pretty much the same way for decades, with the high-home and center-field cameras in baseball, and the main high sideline cameras in football representing the primary views.

Shifting away to other, less traditional camera locations for 3-D creates some cognitive dissonance when watching those two sports presented extensively from other angles. How baseball and football get around that will speak volumes on the advancement of 3-D in sports.

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