3-D mavens have have been saturated with stereo this week — the two-day 3-D Entertainment Summit in Century City on Monday and Tuesday, Thursday’s presentations of "Monsters vs. Aliens" footage at DreamWorks Animation in Glendale and, that same night, the first-ever live, 3-D telecast of an NFL game, beamed to theaters in Hollywood, New York and Boston.
Chances are Thursday’s telecast will be remembered long after the game itself, a one-sided matchup between the mediocre San Diego Chargers and the awful Oakland Raiders. 3ality Digital scored a genuine first with the show.
Here are my takeaways from the telecast:
1) Surprise hit of the evening: 3-D televisions in the VIP lounge. The picture in the theater was good, but suffered for being blown up to bigscreen size. However, the flat-screen TVs (using RealD’s polarized glasses) delivered startlingly clear images and knockout stereo. I’m betting 95% of the people who walked into that room had never seen a 3-D TV set before and almost all will be abuzz over it. I could easily see sports bars putting them in and fans having a fine time watching their favorite team in 3-D.
2) Everyone’s still learning how to shoot a football game in 3-D. The traditional staple of NFL coverage is the high side angle, but it was used sparingly as it’s too far from the action to take full advantage of the stereo. Sideline and end-zone camera positions got a big workout. When those angles are good, they’re fantastic. When the ball’s coming toward the camera, as on a pass over the middle or a punt, the stereo effect is terrific. But those low angles sometimes make it very difficult to follow the action.
3) In 3-D, you are much more aware of how enormous the players are. Or, in the case of the Chargers’ Darren Sproles, how small he is — which fits with one of the strengths of stereo: It’s good at revealing scale. (That’s something DreamWorks is taking full advantage of in "Monsters vs. Aliens.") Also, supporting my personal theory that people in general are more interesting to watch in 3-D, I can attest the cheerleaders got even more than the usual attention when the cameras cut to them. My friend Matt and I agreed that this wasn’t only because they are, well, cheerleaders. Though that didn’t hurt.
4) The technology still isn’t perfect. RealD’s Lenny Lipton was holding forth on some technical decisions he disagreed with in how the 3-D cameras were set up. (He was complaining about the convergance settings, I think.) His eye is more practiced than mine, but I saw problems with the 3-D whenever a ref or player was at the edge of the screen or when there was an out-of-focus object in the foreground (both known issues for 3-D). And sometimes the stereo would just be way off for a moment and we’d howl and whip our glasses off. On balance, Matt and I felt there’s a way to go before you’d want to sit through an entire game in a theater. Our eyes felt strained and tired after about an hour. But hanging out in the lounge watching on those 3-D TVs was pretty darn good and not only because of the buffet and bar. Though that didn’t hurt, either.
5) The event was a success. I’m reminded of the story of the first hot-air balloon flight in 18th-century Paris. Someone asked "What good is it?" and got the reply, "What good is a newborn baby?" Live 3-D TV is a newborn baby. It has some growing up to do. But on Thursday night, I think that we saw enough good things to be confident it will get the chance.
– David S. Cohen