ESPN Scores Touchdown with S3D

Stereoscopic television remains a hot topic at the 3D Entertainment Summit at the Universal Hilton. The latest step forward on the stereoscopic 3D (S3D) broadcasting front came just a few days ago, with ESPN's S3D coverage of last Saturday's USC-Ohio State game, beamed to selected venues.

We stopped in at the ESPN Zone at L.A. Live to check out the telecast and fan reaction, then talked to Vince Pace, whose company provided the S3D technology for the telecast.

The Championship Lounge at ESPN Zone had five S3D TVs set up, two Sony flatscreens, two Hyundai flatscreens and a projection model. The Hyundais required RealD polarized glasses; the others were driving active shutter glasses.

Random fans from the main floor were invited up to watch the S3D coverage for a few minutes. Most, if not all, were seeing S3D TV for the first time. Some 50 answered an extensive survey on their reaction from ESPN; we peeked at a few, and all of those were very positive. One fan was overheard to say, "It's really like being there," and another noted, "It's addictive."

Significantly, after a few minutes watching S3D, some would notice instantly when the broadcast picked up a flat shot from the 2D feed.

Even casual fans soon noted there were fewer camera angles than they're used to in a football telecast, and, sure enough, when we caught up with Vince Pace, he heard the same thing: "We need more camera angles."

For Pace, that was good news. "Thank god we're talking about the stylistic aspect and not whether 3D gives you headaches."

The Skycam, which flies above the action on cables, wasn't used for the coverage. There wasn't time to safety-test an S3D Skycam, but Pace promises, "Next time, watch out."

Pace and his crew found the ESPN team having to unlearn some habits. Despite Pace's warnings, one camera operator kept panning to his right, catching the nose of a 2D camera in a corner of the frame, thus making the S3D nearly unwatchable. "I think I have to create some hard stops for the tripod head," Pace said with a laugh.

In the pregame show, a rig suitable for long shots was instead used for closeups of the announcers on the sideline, making the shot uncomfortable to watch and making the announcers look like miniatures.

"The director has to know there are more layers at his fingertips he has to be respectful of," Pace said. "Same with the operator. They have more of a weapon in their hands, and they have to treat it with a little more respect when they fire it."

Colors were also slightly washed out on the S3D telecast. We thought that might be the TVs, but those occasional 2D shots had very saturated color.

Even live sports coverage, it turns out, is not immune from gimmick 3D shots. When sideline reporter Ed Cunningham found Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes on the sideline, he asked Holmes to show his championship ring to the folks at home -- and put it right into the camera. Sure enough, Holmes' hand seemed to extend out past the screen, drawing laughter and cheers from the ESPN Zone crowd. Think "Dr. Tongue's 3D House of Super Bowl Rings."

"I had talked to Ed before about not being afraid to have fun," Pace said. "It's a natural part of a 3D presentation to say hello to the camera that way." And, he notes with some pride, "Technically, it was pulled off perfectly."

By David S. Cohen, Variety