News: Opening game in 3D. First impressions.

Opening game in 3D. First impressions.

I've been curious to watch one of these famed '3D' games for a while now. Last April at NAB, I attended several 3D panels and folks from ESPN suggested that one of the strongest experiences that would bring 3D into the home would be live sports. I've missed opportunities to watch the PGA Masters broacasts, and NCAA games, but being a hardcore Soccer (Futbol) fan, I've been most excited about this possibility. It did not disappoint, but not without some concessions. I will be as detailed as possible and may even edit the piece if I experience other 3D broadcasts.

I watched the opening game between South Africa and Mexico at a Cinepolis theater in Perisur mall, in Mexico City. The broadcast was supposed to include the opening ceremony feed, also in 3D. But this did not happen because of technical problems. This was apparently a problem originating in South Africa. The theater utilized RealD 3D technology, with standard disposable passive polarized glasses.

I would like to stress that in spite of my comments below, the broadcast looked great and it was in fact very immersive (as generally advertised) and entertaining to look at. Set pieces, sideline Steadicam footage and offside replays really come to life in 3D and judging a player's position is a lot easier and engaging. Just to clarify the kind of 3D used, the ball will not jump at the viewer, as convergence is generally kept behind the screen. The only information pushed into negative space (towards the audience) are the graphics with game information. This was a good call on the part of the technical team, since it provides a good separation from the background and I didn't have any trouble converging both foreground and background. This is also something that was mentioned at ESPN's NAB panel, regarding a football game, so it could be standard practice in the future. The image itself was an HD 3D feed, so watching the game in a large cinema screen lacked some of the definition we (or is it just me?) have come to expect out of 3D feature presentations such as Avatar, How To Train Your Dragon, Alice in Wonderland, etc. In my opinion, the image lacked some contrast to really make the colors pop. This may have just been the setup at this theater. FIFA provided some nice graphics throughout the game and a short promotional video talking about the advancements in technology (from just having photos of the game, to radio broadcasts, to black and white TV, color TV, High Definition, and the next logical step: 3D). These images looked a little better than the actual game. 

The game coverage itself was very similar to what's experienced at home: bird-view sidelines, field-level close-ups, replays, spider-cam, cranes behind the goals were all present.

The main consideration for this viewing is the quality of the broadcast itself, in terms of replay technology and game commentary. This broadcast was somewhat lacking in the power of local technical directors making their own judgments and advanced analysis of replays and stats to be displayed. This was apparently a single live feed being broadcast around the world. Thus, this was a separate production than you'd see on your favorite TV station and slightly inferior in terms of information and commentary quality. The commentators mentioned they didn't have control over the replays a few times. There were some edge violations (discrepancies in both images towards the edge of the screen) here and there, but they were negligible in my opinion. The 3D team in South Africa did a great job of correcting differences in focus that can happen between cameras, and promptly cut to other cameras when it was apparent that the correction wasn't being made fast enough.

One consideration for this kind of viewing is that the viewer's full attention is on the game because of the theater environment, whereas watching this game at home, bar, office, internet, can be a more casual experience. Therefore, had the game been boring, the experience would still be a little more engaging than regular 2D, but the audience can't shift their attention anywhere else. This is a big reason for bringing this kind of experience into the home. We can change the channel if the game itself as entertaining, or we can order another beer at the pub. I've never felt encumbered by the glasses, nor do I worry about how they make me look. So I think this was a very positive experience and another important step towards bringing the 3D experience home or to a bar.

I would love to hear other people's opinion and experiences and maybe even answer a few questions if I forgot to mention something.

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