Is the Olympics in 3D a Big Deal?
What sports do you want to see in 3D?
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July 27, 2012 by Grant Clauser

*Updated* The London Olympics began last week, and it didn’t take long for people to start complaining about NBC’s coverage. First, Matt Lauer talked too much over the opening ceremonies, then NBC asked fans to stop tweeting, then Twitter gave someone the boot for complaining about NBC. How much worse can it get?

But what about 3D? I was looking forward to checking out the opening ceremony in 3D, only to find out (figure out) too late that NBC would be showing the 3D version a full day after the 2D broadcast, which itself is about six hours delayed.

So then I woke up Saturday morning planning to watch the opening ceremonies again, this time with my 3D shades on, only to find out that Verizon’s 3D Olympic channel would cost me extra. Annoyed, but determined, I pressed the select button to add that channel to my service only to get an error message telling me that I needed to call Verizon to make things work.

At that point it looked like the biggest marketing opportunity for 3DTV was off to a poor start.

Because it was a weekend, I had to wait until Monday to get Verizon on the phone to help me figure the issue out. It turns out my 2009 channel package was incompatible with the new channel and I needed to upgrade to a newer package to get the Olympics 3D channel, but in order to do that I needed to also upgrade my internet speed package and change my phone over to digital voice because that’s how Verizon bundles it. This was going to cost me a bunch. Since I would get a few new HD channels in the process, I took the bait. But I still had to wait 24 hours for it all to take effect, which means no Olympic 3D until Tuesday. That’s OK, because I didn’t want to watch the bike racing anyhow.

By the way, I could find no mention of the 3DTV channel anywhere on the Verizon website, and the customer service rep I spoke to took about 30 minutes before she could figure out how to add it. Again, 3DTV is messing up on a huge opportunity, and it’s not 3DTV’s fault.

Panasonic is the official 3D sponsor and says that 80 percent of US TV households will be able to receive the 3D Olympic programming (of course they’ll need 3D TVs). The Olympics is probably be biggest demonstration of 3D TV the world has seen.  I’ll be watching over Verizon FIOS, but most of the other cable companies (plus DirecTV) are also on board. Over 240 hours of 3D programming is promised, all of it delayed by a day.

From the schedule (shown here) it’s clear that not everything will be available in 3D. Notably lacking will be women’s beach volleyball, which is probably a big missed opportunity for 3D adoption. Who wouldn’t want to see that?

Also missing are fun things like judo, boxing and fencing? Isn’t 3D made for fight scenes? Archery? That could be amazing, but no.  But there is canoeing and synchronized swimming. Really? How much depth adjustment do you need for that?

In track and field, the jumping events should be worth checking out, especially the pole vault.  I don’t think 3D could add much to the running events.

Panasonic tells me that the 3D coverage will be shot with completely separate camera systems from the 2D coverage and will include other bonus features not included in the 2D coverage—so the experience should be distinctive.

Since I have multiple TVs in for review I’ll be able to compare the broadcasts on both active and passive 3D technology. I’ll update this post in a few days to let you know what I think. I’m interested to see if and how the 3D cameras are used compared to the 2D presentations.

There have been plenty of complaints already about how NBC is micromanaging the Olympics, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the 3D portion works out.

What 3D events are you most looking forward to? Let me know in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

*Update 7-31* So far I’ve only watched a little bit of the 3D channel, and it’s all been diving. The image looks excellent on the Panasonic plasma in my living room. While the 3D isn’t delivering Avatar-like moments where things are flying past your face (such as splashes from the divers), there’s a mesmerizing depth to the picture. Sharpness is slightly compromised when things move quickly, which is a bit of a ding to a sporting event, but it’s not drastic. A bonus benefit is that the commentary on the 3D broadcast is much less intrusive than the standard broadcast.

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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