Sunday, January 2, 2011

live 3D sports verdict: lame but there's potential

About two months ago, my DLP HDTV set bit the dust. I thought it was just a bad bulb but replacing it didn't help. The color wheel was still in good shape. Basically, it was just bad mojo all around. Time to replace the TV.

I've got one of those built-in cubby holes for a TV. I had exactly 34 inches of vertical clearance for the biggest screen I could find that would fit that space. I could only find 2 models of 55" HDTVs that were 34" or less in height with the stand, both from Sony. One was last year's model and the other was this year's model of their Bravia line with 3D capability. I didn't want 3D. More specifically, I didn't want the 3D premium. However, dimensions were the trump card and I ended up picking up last year's 3D capable model along with a "3D bundle" that included the 3D blu-ray player and 2 pair of the 3D glasses.

My family has watched a couple of 3D blu-ray movies and the technology is pretty good and we didn't have any problems. However, this weekend, I finally got around to watching some live 3D sports coverage: specifically the NHL Winter Classic and the Fiesta Bowl. Both were on at the same time. Both had normal 2D coverage going on as well. This was the ideal time to weigh the pros and cons while doing comparisons between broadcasts.

The Pros:

  • Less commercials! During both broadcasts, when the 2D feed cut to commercial, sometimes the 3D feed had some kind of side coverage and no actual commercial. Admittedly, no actual sports action but still better than a commercial. This is due to a lack of 3D commercials and a much smaller viewing audience. This will go away with time.
  • The 3D is pretty cool at times. The depth perception on certain camera angles really did add a bit of realism and appreciation for what's happening on the field.
The Cons:
  • The biggest issue in both cases were 3D ghosts on real people (both the athletes and talking heads on the sidelines). This is not a problem we have seen in any of the movies we've watched on the set. Only in the real-time live 3D coverage. I understand that movies have plenty of time in post-production to make sure none of that shows up. However, there seems to be something fundamental to the live coverage & cameras used that caused it to be much more prevalent than I would expect. This seems like it could be related to looking at a part of the screen where the focus of the camera was not but it was inconsistent. It's not like there was a part of the screen that was perfectly clear and the rest was ghosty (that's not a real word but I have no better term for it). The whole screen would get messed up.
  • 3D ghosts on the "graphics". Of all the things that I think would actually look perfectly normal were the graphic overlays for the score, player bios, etc. These are the most glaring. Seeing a background slightly offset image of the text being displayed was the most obvious. I want to repeat: 3D blu-ray movies and other canned 3D broadcasts (concerts mostly) look perfectly normal. I don't believe this is an issue with my TV set.
  • Sometimes the 3D effect on the real people looked liked 2D cutouts of people at different 3D depths rather than a sense of being able to see some depth to individuals. This was more apparent in the hockey game than the football game but did happen in both. It was more obvious when looking at people who were further back in the screen than those from a near to a mid-depth.
  • The Fiesta Bowl had a different set of cameras used than the normal 2D broadcast. The cameras were actually on the opposite side of the field. This was not true with the hockey telecast. Flipping back and forth between the 2D and 3D presentations showed no differences in the cameras in hockey vs. the cameras in the football game were completely different all the time.
  • With respect to the football game, I noticed a distinct lack of camera angles. 75+% of the time, the camera angle was a side view of the play pulled pretty far back. Almost like you were in a moving seat along the sideline about 20 rows up that was a little bit ahead of the line of scrimmage. This would be cool if you were actually at the stadium but not on my home couch where I expect to see cool replays from many different angles.
  • The telecasters were unique to each broadcast for the football game while identical in the hockey game.  And yes, it  was the "B" team on the 3D football broadcast.
  • 3D glasses for 3D TVs are "active shutter".  Meaning they have actual electronics in them that control what image you are seeing in each eye and flip back and forth really, really fast. While watching a movie, the glasses are perfectly fine because I camp out and focus exclusively on the movie. When watching a sporting event, the glasses are a pain in the butt. During sports telecasts, I have a tendency to move around a lot and not be totally focused on the game like I would a movie. The glasses have a "timeout" feature that cause them to turn off after a bit of time (60 seconds?) without having the 3D transmitter signal.  This happens when the glasses get out of range (going to the kitchen for food where I can still see the TV), there are obstructions between the glasses and the 3D transmitter (my laptop screen!), or if you turn your head away at more than a 90 degree angle from the set (viewing said laptop in a new position while paying attention to the game out of the corner of my eye). I also got a bit of "glasses fatigue" while watching so much sports which were way longer than the average 3D movie.

So, would I invest in such technology? I did but not for the 3D, only for the screen size with my aforementioned space limitations. I don't think I'll be buying any more glasses (expensive at $100 each!) unless the family demands it for some reason.

No comments: