Sports programming has always been a game-changer, pardon the pun, when it comes to TV, and particularly the far-reaching ESPN empire. It helped push cable TV in front of millions of sports-hungry viewers, and later made those clamoring to see games in high-definition become mainstream reality (now we can follow the whizzing hockey pucks and flying golf balls better!).
But it turns out that sports, and ESPN, was no game-changer when it came to the flailing adoption of 3D viewing in the mainstream.
According to reports and confirmed by ESPN officials, the network is pulling the plug on its ESPN 3D channel that it launched almost three years ago to the day (June 11, 2010 during the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament).
Unfortunately, this should come as a surprise to virtually no one. ESPN spokesperson Katina Arnold tweeted “ESPN 3D was great at home but due to low adoption of 3D to home, we are discontinuing to focus on other products for fans and affiliates” today in confirming the news that the channel will be discontinued by year’s end.
The road to home 3D adoption has been a rocky, uphill path that seemingly started off with tons of vigor as TV manufacturers and movie studios began cramming the technology down our throats. But we got winded really quickly, thanks to a combination of factors such as the pesky glasses and the lack of consistently appealing content. No matter how much fanfare 3D is given, it hasn’t produced enough fans in the “if you build it, people will come” scenario that is still playing out.
Without much alternative in the way of cable 3D broadcasts, sports at least provided some glimmers of hope that the technology could catch on. ESPN carried everything from college sports to X Games and golf (it made for a great viewing party at custom electronics pro HiFi House during this year’s Masters).
For some of us, 3D is still a viable viewing option, but more of a novelty despite now being a relatively ubiquitous feature of today’s TVs. The case for 3D in the home could best be made with a projection system on a true cinematic-size projection screen (think 92+ inches) and crisp Blu-ray content (like the award-winning Life of Pi). I’ve watched animated flicks like Tangled and Despicable Me in 3D on my home projection system and they’re fun, especially for my 6-year-old daughter.
So it’s not like 3D is going away anytime soon, but ESPN’s announcement is certainly another blow to those who did expect the format to take over our living rooms and home theaters.
Of course, the latest video trend is 4K Ultra High-definition, and again we’d expect super-crisp live sporting events to be a player in its home popularity as more of the TV and cable industry supports the higher-resolution technology. Coincidentally, one of the best things we’ve noticed about 4K UHD sets is their ability to render the most watchable 3D available in TVs.
And it looks like ESPN will be among the players to push UHD along, too. In its statement, the company added “Nobody knows more about sports in 3D than ESPN, and we will be ready to provide the service to fans if or when 3D does take off. As technology leaders, we continue to experiment with things like Ultra High Definition television (also known as Ultra HD television or UHDTV) production tools to produce our current ESPN family of HD channels.” While the former might never come to fruition, we’ll see how the latter does moving forward. Because in UHD you can really follow those hockey pucks and golf balls.
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Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.