Adding a dimension: 3-D system in Washington State suites
Washington State University has rolled out 3-D technology in the suites at Martin Stadium, which industry experts believe is the first sports facility in North America to complete a permanent installation.
A company called 3D-4U, co-founded by Sankar Jayaram, a Washington State professor of mechanical engineering and computer science, has developed proprietary technology that gives suite users exclusive access to live action and replays in 3-D on 47-inch high-definition televisions.
|Fans control cameras and angles.
To view the technology in 3-D, suite attendees must wear 3-D glasses provided in every skybox. The unique camera angles can also be viewed in traditional 2-D format, Jayaram said.
The ability for a fan to take control of a live television camera in a suite is not new — Sony and Daktronics teamed up three years ago to form StadiumView at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati — but upgrading it to 3-D is a groundbreaking venture, experts said.
As the quality of 3-D technology continues to improve, 3D-4U could gain traction in sports by providing fans with a “total immersion” experience, said Sandy Climan, president of Entertainment Media Ventures and former CEO of 3ality Digital. Climan’s old company produced the first NFL game in 3-D in 2008.
“I will be watching closely to see the quality and comfort of the 3-D broadcast at Washington State,” he said.
Washington State invested $700,000 in the technology, said John Johnson, the school’s senior associate athletic director. Jayaram said the costs can run as high as $3 million depending in part on the number of 3-D cameras operating on the field.
The market for 3-D televisions remains spotty three years after the first units hit retail stores. There are fewer than 115,000 homes in the U.S. tuned to 3-D channels at any one time, according to a recent story from The Associated Press.
Jayaram said the technology has the potential to generate revenue for schools using the system for advanced coaching tools, high-resolution security and surveillance and on-demand highlights.
In addition, 3D-4U is developing a mobile application for fans to maneuver camera angles similar to what can be done in the suites. The application will start in 2-D format, but is designed for 3-D once smartphones and tablets fully catch up with the technology, Jayaram said. Company officials expect to roll out the application in November. Mobile devices with 3-D technology do not require users to wear glasses, he said.
Jayaram has worked on 3-D technology for 12 years and co-founded 3D-4U in 2004. Silver Chalice, a new-media subsidiary of the Chicago White Sox, bought an undisclosed percentage of the company in 2010.
Last year, 3D-4U tested its system at the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium, where company officials in conjunction with Major League Baseball Advanced Media placed a camera in the dugout and recorded the games. It was also tested at NBA and NCAA football games, Jayaram said.
Silver Chalice is leading the effort to introduce 3D-4U technology to leagues, right holders and media companies, said Jason Coyle, its chief operating officer.
The feedback from teams has been to use the technology as an enhanced 2-D experience without upgrading to 3-D, Coyle said. That being said, 3D-4U is “well-positioned if the marketplace ever opens up,” he said.
“The output is unlimited,” Coyle said. “There could be 1 million users looking at 1 million things at the same time. There are remarkable opportunities if they can just get a foothold.”