Picture perfect: ESPN technicians calibrate a 3-D camera before a sporting event.
The challenges brought by 3-D aren’t just in the display technology, either. Sports network ESPN recently announced that it would offer a special 3-D channel, which will start out in June showing World Cup events. As part of offering this content, the network has to change some of its filming practices, explains Anthony Bailey, vice president of emerging technology at ESPN.
“The biggest change is the camera placement,” Bailey says. Shooting in 3-D works best if the cameras are positioned closer and lower than normal, Bailey says. He notes that in tests the network has done, changing from one camera to another can introduce changes in perspective that can alter the perceived size of players on the field. Heavy movement also tends to blur, and placing graphics on-screen can be challenging.
Bailey says ESPN will start out showing soccer partly because the network’s tests have helped it determine some of the best ways to present the sport in 3-D. ESPN is still looking into the best ways to shoot golf tournaments and other sports.
Besides simply making sure that content is available, part of the industry’s strategy is to offer lots of 3-D-enabled products. In addition to televisions, companies are releasing 3-D-enabled Blu-ray players and camcorders. Consumers who want 3-D content from satellite TV service DirecTV will need to download new software for their set-top boxes, but they won’t need any new hardware.
Panasonic’s Fannon believes that this approach will make 3-D television mainstream in a much shorter time than it took to gain widespread adoption of HDTV. With that earlier technology, he says, there was a “chicken and egg” problem–content and hardware weren’t released in step with each other. The hope now, he says, is that consumers will upgrade to 3-D when they buy new televisions, since there is content available and they won’t need additional hardware. In contrast, consumers who wanted HD content from DirecTV, for example, had to buy a set-top box and new dish in addition to a new television.
Fannon says Panasonic plans to offer its plasma screen 3-D televisions for a few hundred dollars more than the baseline price for a standard full-featured television. Mitsubishi currently sells its 3-D televisions for between $1,500 and $4,200.