DirecTV helped ESPN 3D get off to an impressive start shortly after 6:30 a.m. this morning (Friday, June 11), providing a dedicated channel (106) for the daily World Cup matches from South Africa (Comcast was to do the same, while AT&T U-Verse is charging a $10 premium).
Although I have seen a handful of live sporting events broadcast in 3D, mostly in theaters, 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.
The 3D telecast viewed through Panasonic’s companion active-shutter 3D glasses were clear and vivid and provided a much more enticing, enhanced experience compared to the 2D broadcast. That feeling was shared by multiple DirecTV executives wandering in and out of the room in their corporate headquarters in El Segundo, Ca., where I was viewing the event. (Required technical upgrades to view programming in 3D was automatically and seamlessly downloaded a couple weeks ago to the HD receivers of customers but I have not purchased a 3DTV yet.)
One of those DirecTV executives was Romuto Pontual, executive VP and chief technology officer, who pointed out the unique 3D features of the DirecTV HD DVR, which will record any 3D programming as it would 2D programs. Replaying 3D and using the slow-motion is pretty nifty. But he noted that the image automatically shifts to 2D during fast scanning forward or back to make it easier on the eyes. The same goes for when a DirecTV menu is on the screen; the image is automatically converted to 2D until the menu display disappears, to avoid eye strain.
Speaking of eye discomfort, I had none 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). DirecTV engineers in the broadcast center in Santa Monica reported that this was a glitch coming from the transmission site (ESPN 3D is picking up the coverage from a 3D world feed provided by and produced by FIFA for all 25 matches being broadcast in 3D — complete list below).
And there are other more subtle differences that viewers will notice. For instance, the broadcast, which features its own smaller number of cameras (and its own announcing team), features fewer cutaway shots to close-ups and field level angles. Although this may seem counter-intuitive since close-ups and lower angles are more effective for 3D, too many cuts can be a little more jarring to the eye in 3D, so they say. I didn’t notice any problem with the still significant number of camera shot changes. In fact, comparing to the 2D broadcast, I found I was enjoying the less frantic approach that showed more of the field and players more often, at least for this sport.
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. ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” ad was amusing but did not use the 3D as effectively as the others. Luckily, since soccer goes without a commercial break during each 45-minute half (plus stoppage time), the same package of commercials being repeated over and over did not get old, as was the case during the NCAA Final Four telecasts.
Perhaps the most effective 3D ads are those Sony banners in the South African soccer stadium itself — “Make believe: 3D” and “Imagine Football in 3D.” Those look just as good in 2D, and anyone watching the games in the stadium or any any type of TV in the world are getting the 3D message.
ESPN 3D is showing one game almost every day of the month-long World Cup and two on July 3. The complete ESPN 3D schedule:
Date Time (all PT) Match
Fri, June 11 7 a.m. South Africa vs. Mexico
Sat, June 12 7 a.m. Argentina vs. Nigeria
Sun, June 13 11:30 a.m. Germany vs. Australia
Mon, June 14 4:30 a.m. Netherlands vs. Denmark
Tues, June 15 11:30 a.m. Brazil vs. North Korea
Wed, June 16 7 a.m. Spain vs. Switzerland
Thurs, June 17 4:30 a.m. Argentina vs. South Korea
Fri, June 18 4:30 a.m. Slovenia vs. United States
Sat, June 19 4:30 a.m. Netherlands vs. Japan
Sun, June 20 11:30 a.m. Brazil vs. Ivory Coast
Mon, June 21 11:30 a.m. Spain vs. Honduras
Tues, June 22 11:30 a.m. Nigeria vs. South Korea
Wed, June 23 11:30 a.m. Ghana vs. Germany
Thurs, June 24 7 a.m. Slovakia vs. Italy
Fri, June 25 7 a.m. Portugal vs. Brazil
Sun, June 27 11:30 a.m. Round of 16 match
Mon, June 28 7 a.m. Round of 16 match
11:30 a.m. Round of 16 match
Fri, July 2 11:30 a.m. Quarterfinals
Sat, July 3 7 a.m. Quarterfinals
Sat, July 3 11:30 a.m. Quarterfinals
Tues, July 6 11:30 a.m. Semifinals
Wed, July 7 11:30 a.m. Semifinals
Sat, July 10 11:30 a.m. 3rd place match
Sun, July 11 11:30 a.m. Finals
— By Scott Hettrick