As I was doing my thing at the Auburn-Clemson game Saturday, I got a sneak peek at ESPN's 3D football-broadcasting operation.
The 3D sideline cameras were quite an elaborate setup. The basic principle is that the camera has two lenses, which function more or less like human eyes, providing depth perception. I snapped a couple of quick photos of the operation during the game (sorry they're not great, but I did have a job to do).
The controls are also noticeably different. It's hard to see in this photo, but there are two handles on the front of the camera, with what appeared to be zoom and focus controls for each lens. I'm not sure how the display works, but I'm guessing each eye sees the image from one lens.
Maybe they've engineered a better way to do it, but it seems like the camera man has twice as much work to do in keeping both lenses zoomed properly and in focus. I have enough trouble using one lens during football games, and would not look forward to operating a 3D camera that had twice as many opportunities to ruin my shot.
All those cables from the 3D camera have to go somewhere, and that somewhere is this kid's back. He was following the cameraman around all game long, mostly crouching on the field with that ridiculous pack on his back. It reminded me of the Ghostbusters' proton packs, but bigger and heavier (I'm assuming).
There were two large white boxes, the size of an average desktop computer, along with what looked like a power supply and a handful of boxes and gizmos I couldn't identify. As if that weren't enough, there was a short cable connecting him to the camera operator, and a much longer cable dragging behind him sending the feed to ESPN producers. Four hours carrying a heavy load, crouching in uncomfortable positions, while tethered to something at both ends is not my idea of a good time.
Fortunately, I didn't just see how the sausage was made. I also got to try a bite. ESPN had set up a 3D display by the food line in the press box, complete with community glasses, and most of the reporters there tried it out, at least for a series or two.
The people at the Worldwide Leader are convinced that 3D will be the next big thing in watching sports. I remain unconvinced. I only watched a few plays in 3D (again, I had a job to do), and while it was kind of cool to see depth to the picture, I'd hardly call it revolutionary.
All the wide shots of the stadium, or shots from the sideline looked basically the same. The 3D effect was a lot more noticable in shots from the end zone, and close-ups of the action. Fans in the stands looked distorted on those wide shots.
The 3D experience did make me sympathize with quarterbacks a bit more, as blitzing linebackers are decidedly scarier in three dimensions than in two. I also felt like I was playing a video game during replays, wondering why Cam Newton didn't execute the spin move when I was clearly mashing the Triangle button.
The most jarring impact of 3D was felt with the ESPN graphics, which clearly stood out from the rest of the footage. When the ESPN logo came on the screen, it seemed to come from directly over my head, and almost made me duck to avoid these terrifying transitions.
Maybe if I watch a whole game in 3D, I'll like it better, and remember that I don't have to dodge the ESPN logos that fly in from above. Maybe I'll get used to the video game feeling and appreciate the depth and realism it offers. For now, a 3D television is not a necessity - a good thing considering my financial situation - although I still liked watching football in 3D better than Avatar.