Monday, January 12, 2009

College Football: In 3D

We went to see the "national championship" game in 3D last week at a local theater (Galaxy 10, which I'd highly recommend if you live in Austin). The plan was to watch the first half in 3D, drive home at halftime, and watch the second half in HD on the plasma for comparison purposes.

If you want to know how the experience was overall, it was a very mixed bag.

The basic idea of broadcasting a sporting event in 3D works fine. Camera work, the glasses work, etc. What doesn't work very well yet, though, are all the people making all the decisions about what gets shown. There is apparently a huge learning curve in terms of selecting what looks good in 3D versus what looks good in 2D.

Here's an example. In 2D , there's a standard camera angle to show each play, and it's an elevated shot from the side. That angle also happens to be one of the worst for getting a 3D effect--the higher the camera, the smaller the effect, and the best effect is gained when players are either running toward or away from the camera.

So that main camera angle that everyone has been using for forty years, basically? It's useless. Because of that, the director kept experimenting with different camera angles, and some of them were so close to the action that they frequently lost the ball (momentarily) on passing plays.

The ideal approach, I'm guessing, would be to have one of those "moving wire cameras" located behind the line of scrimmage and about ten feet off the ground, pulled back as far as needed to show the whole field.

In the meantime, the 3D effect was cool, but it wasn't jaw-dropping, and it was very inconsistent from shot to shot.

The biggest difference, and this is what surprised me most, was in the presentation. No scoreboard overlay. Almost no statistical overlays. In other words, we didn't see a bunch of useless crap and network pimping on the screen. No American Idol overlays. No website whoring. No stupid-ass, giant arrows on the field telling us down and distance, just like the scoreboard overlay is already telling us. All we saw was football.

That was absolutely great.

It reminded me of how little the content really matters these days. Content is just a vehicle for whoring the brand, whether it's FOX or ESPN or anyone else. There is zero respect for content these days.

It was also a different announcing crew, and they made no effort to appeal to the people who watch football once a year--instead, there was much more (and much more interesting) information about coverages and schemes.

Yes, they promoted 3D to death. They didn't quite say "Tim Tebow scratching his balls has never looked as good as in 3D," but they were close.

When the Super Bowl gets shown in 3D in Austin, I'm willing to go back. But it's clear that the production aspect of airing live events in 3D still has a long way to go.

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