This morning ESPN 3Di broadcast their first real program, the opening match of the 2010 World Cup, a game between South Africa and Mexico.
Using a new Panasonic VT25 series plasma, I take a look at this next generation of television.
As mentioned in this post, ESPN 3D uses the side-by-side 3D method, meaning the left and right images are shown in the same frame. So if you view the image on a regular TV, you’d see two seemingly identical images.
While the current boxes (such as the Motorola VIP1225 I have) can output this 3D signal, they don’t output the metadata that tells the TV what type of 3D signal it is. This means you need to manually switch the TV into side-by-side mode. While not difficult, it takes about 6 button pushes to get into the setup section of the menu and switch it. Then you have to repeat the process to undo the side-by-side mode to watch regular TV. Gotta love new tech.
It takes just a moment for the fancy active shutter glasses that come with the Panasonic to sync to the TV, and once it was placed in side-by-side mode, everything popped into place.
ESPN 3D has done a good job, like many of the early HD networks, to showcase what they’re doing. There is a short intro with locations highlighted on a globe showing past World Cup cities and the technology used to broadcast them. With convincing depth, floating images move around the screen.
Then there’s the game itself. Generally, like most sports, soccer is broadcast with one main camera high up in the stadium showing most of the field. This camera tracks the action. This feed was set up pretty well. The field and immediate sidelines had a convincing sense of depth, very much like you were seated near the camera and viewing the field for real. The far side of the stadium, however, was oddly flat and seemingly near vertical. This was highly unnatural looking.
Other shots, either from other parts of the stadium, the crowd, or close ups of the action from the field, were interspersed with a high degree of success. A year or so ago I saw a football game broadcast in 3D and every time the image cut to a different camera, the depth with change. This was disorienting at best, and nauseating at worst. There is some of that watching this game, especially when the image went from the overview camera to one on the field. The abrupt changes in depth were not nearly as jarring as that football game a year ago, and as such this was a far easier game to watch. Sadly, the cameras on the field were able to show much more of the “3D effect,” and could be used more. Doubtless this type of problem will persist as directors learn how to shoot and edit 3D (every aspect of the 3D image is adjustable).
From a pure picture quality standpoint, the image had noticeable artifacts, including one I had never seen before. It seemed in some shots as if there was a watery surface on solid colors. Where in the chain this artifact is being created I’m not sure. I don’t want to say it’s something in the 3D process/equipment just yet. There are too many variables in what is pretty bleeding edge technology. Interestingly, while there is half the horizontal resolution, it didn’t seem noticeably softer. Compared to the standard HD image, in the case 3D is a step back. A tradeoff for sure for the novelty of depth.
What you won’t be seeing is anything coming out at the screen at you. Maybe during the Cup someone will kick a shot at a sideline camera and we can see. One pretty cool moment during this first game, someone let go a few balloons in the stadium. These floated up in front of the camera, giving perhaps the best sense of 3 dimensions for the whole game.
Because the Motorola VIP1225 isn’t a 3D box, menus are split between each eye. So navigating through the menus becomes a temporarily amusing game of blinking one eye then the other to see what you want to select.
On the Panasonic TC-P50VT25 I used (review soon), there was hardly any crosstalk. Crosstalk looks like a ghost image adjacent to the “real” image. This is one of the most significant and objectionable artifacts with 3D, and its absence was welcome.
There are even a few 3D commercials.
Between games (there seems to be about 1 per day), there’s an ESPN 3D logo and a clip reel of other 3D events, like a college football game, a Harlem Globetrotters game, and group of people doing absurd things and falling down. I believe the latter is referred to as “X Games.”
All in all I’d give it a B-/C+, which honestly is pretty good for such new technology, and certainly about as good as the first HD broadcasts.
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