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3D For Sports Makes Your HD Television Obsolete

Posted By: Ed S. at 6/28/2010 3:50 AM CDT

Last fall, I splurged and bought a new ultra-thin Samsung television. I was pretty happy with it.

Then Friday I learned it was obsolete.

Comcast's Rich Ruggerio and Angelynne Amores arranged for a special screening of ESPN's 3-D telecast of the Portugal-Brazil game. I brought along my resident television experts, 14-year-old Matt and 12-year-old Sam.

We put on our 3-D glasses, and within seconds the first player came popping out of the screen.

"This is sick," said Matt in teenage speak.

I thought it was cool, in old-fashioned 50-year-old speak. However, I can't say I was completely knocked over.

I didn't notice that much of a difference in the typical center overview shot. It seemed like I was watching a regular television.

However, when the cameras panned low, which is quite often, the effect is dramatic. The players did seem three-dimensional, at times as if they were standing directly in front of you.

Sam put it best: "It feels like you have a front-row seat to the game."

On a high kick, the ball floats in a way where you feel like you can reach out and grab it. The graphics also seem suspended, as if there is an additional layer to your screen.

ESPN has dived in completely with the new technology. It is airing 25 World Cup games in 3-D and close to 100 events overall throughout the year.

Chuck Pagano, ESPN's executive vice-president for technology, said the network still is trying to figure out the nuances of 3-D technology for sports.

"We have to unlearn how we do TV," Mr. Pagano said. "Less might be more with 3-D. Perhaps we'll use less graphics so we can focus on the complete frame. You're telling the story in a completely different way."

Mr. Pagano said 3-D's biggest strength is providing perspective.

"In soccer, you can see the width of the stadium," Mr. Pagano said. "You can see the distances of where players are standing on the field. You get the perspective of where objects are placed."

ESPN did the Masters in 3-D. During a screening, Ms. Amores said viewers initially flinched thinking the ball was coming right at them.

Imagine how it would be for baseball with a low-level camera behind the catcher picking up Stephen Strasburg's fastball. And the same could be said for tennis, with the ball flying at you off the serve. You'd probably feel punchy if you watched the marathon Wimbledon match that way.

With its vast potential, sports clearly is going to be a driver in expanding the reach of 3-D. According to Brad Peiser, my salesman at ABT Electronics in Glenview, the World Cup and the launch of ESPN 3-D already is spurring sales of 3-D televisions.

Industry reports say 1 million 3-D televisions are expected to be sold this year, and 4 million through 2011. They currently sell in the $2,000 range, and the 3-D glasses go for $150. But you can expect those prices to come down, much like they did for HD televisions.

Mr. Pagano expects 3-D televisions will be fairly prevalent within five years, probably sooner within the Sherman household. As we left the screening, my kids wanted to know when they should expect to be able to watch sports in 3-D in our living room.

Good luck keeping up. With the rapid pace of technology, Mr. Pagano asks, "The bigger question is, what's next after this?"

Indeed, the moment I buy my new 3-D set, they will come out with holograms for televisions.

Copyright © 2010 Crain Communications, Inc.