First Impressions: ESPN 3D’s World Cup Soccer
The reviews are out, and there are some interesting takes on whether or not the new technology scored.
June 14, 2010 by Arlen Schweiger

Well, 3D broadcast programming is here, and judging from the reviews ESPN 3D’s World Cup coverage may not have been 100 percent without a hitch, but any gaffes weren’t as drastic as that of British goalkeeping, either.

It seems the easiest and most practical analogy to make in looking at nascent 3D is with nascent high-definition. Remember when sporting events were given alternate camera angles and closeups that didn’t really go well with the audio, but tried to take advantage of the higher resolution? The 3D sporting events may fall into that category, although for the World Cup things were relatively normal.

And depending whom you read today, it’s either a nice improvement on 2D programming, or it still has a ways to go before it’ll catch on—kinda like HD. We don’t have a 3D setup in our office, so we didn’t get a chance to view the first game in the format, but below are a couple of interesting takes on the coverage.

Some thoughts from Home Entertainment’s Geoffrey Morrison, who was viewing via AT&T’s U-verse:

“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. ...

“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. ...

“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. ...

“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.”

Sounds reasonable enough. It took HD programming years to gain traction by more than just early adopters, and even today my cable system, for example, still randomly adds HD channels without warning and doesn’t contain nearly as many as you’d think after a decade of the technology.

Scott Hettrick of Hollywood in HiDef took a different approach to viewing his first 3D soccer game, beamed via DirecTV. He was able to watch on a setup that included an A/B side-by-side displays of 3D on one screen, 2D on the other.

“I saw for the first time what a significant difference there is when watching a sports event on TV in 3D side-by-side next to the same program in standard 2D.

“Just one example was when Mexico took a shot on goal and the camera was high and to the side. On a Samsung LED TV showing the ESPN HD broadcast I was unable to determine initially whether the ball was heading into the goal or not. When I quickly glanced over to the TV right next to it, a Panasonic plasma showing the same play on ESPN 3D it was immediately clear that there was a significant distance between the ball and the goal posts — the ball was very wide right of the goal. That wasn’t obvious on the 2D TV until the ball went past the goal, and, of course, in the replays.

“As with all things 3D, the camera angles lowest to the ground with something or someone in the foreground near the camera offered the best sense of depth but even the full shots of the field were noticeably superior to the 2D version. ...

“I had [no eye discomfort] at all despite watching the 3D broadcast for 2 1/2-hours, which was a pleasant discovery after so many people have expressed concern about long-term viewing in 3D (BTW, “Avatar” was longer than many sporting events and no one complained about that).

“The inaugural 3D telecast was not flawless; there were periodic moments when the image went gray-ish for a second and then went out of convergence for two or three seconds (the separate images split apart so they became two overlapping blurry images). ...

“I also enjoyed the four 3D commercials from three different sponsors more than those in the 2D telecast, particularly the dynamic and humorous soccer-related ad from Sony showing balls being kicked at the camera. Gillette’s Fusion ad with the floating razor also made good use of the 3D.”

There’s plenty more 3D soccer coverage to come, and some baseball events before ESPN 3D kicks into high gear with college football season. Next up for other programming would be content from Discovery, which ought to be interesting in a different way too.

Just as sports brought out the best in HD’s potential for live programming, Discovery HD Theater and subsequent efforts such as the BBC’s Planet Earth series did the same for natively filmed HD. We’ll see if 3D nature and travel programming is just as engaging, so stay tuned.





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Arlen Schweiger - Contributor, Electronic House Magazine
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for and Electronic House magazine.

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