The Masters Takes 3D Leap
3D coverage to be distributed by Comcast
By Glen Dickson -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/15/2010 2:44:38 PM
The 3D production of The Masters, which is being sponsored by Sony Electronics, is the second marquee sporting event to adopt the format in as many weeks, following CBS' announcement last week that it would produce the NCAA Final Four in 3D. But while the Final Four will be delivered to paying customers in specially equipped digital cinemas, The Masters will be delivered over cable to early adopters of 3D sets, which have just begun hitting retail shelves this month.
"Innovation has always been part of Masters tradition," said Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament Chairman Billy Payne in a statement. "Utilizing this technology marks another important milestone in allowing our at-home patrons to better experience the beauty of our course and excitement of our Tournament. We consider ourselves fortunate to be a leader in providing this technology, thanks in large part to our valuable partners who share in our commitment to deliver a meaningful and memorable viewing experience."
The 3D production will provide two hours of live 3D coverage daily from Augusta National in Augusta, Ga. beginning with the Par 3 Contest on April 7 and continuing throughout the four Tournament rounds, Thursday, April 8 - Sunday, April 11. The coverage, which will use multiple 3D cameras, will focus primarily on the back nine holes of the Augusta National course.
The 3D coverage will be delivered separately from conventional 2D broadcasts from Masters rightsholders CBS and ESPN, and may include branding from Sony and IBM, the Masters' longtime technology partner. Comcast and IBM will also work together to provide the same 3D feed over the Web via www.masters.com, which can be viewed by 3D-capable PCs with special 3D monitors and companion glasses.
The 3D coverage from the scenic Augusta National course has the potential to be dramatic, based on test 3D footage that ESPN shot last month at the course with amateur golfers. The 3D footage, which this reporter viewed in NEP's SS 3D production truck , showed the contours of Augusta's undulating greens in a way that 2D HD can't capture. Small ripples in water hazards surrounding several holes were clearly visible, and sand appeared to fly off the screen after bunker shots.
"You're looking at it from the player's perspective," said Comcast spokeswoman Jenni Moyer, who has viewed test footage from Augusta in Comcast's labs.
The 3D Masters coverage is the first live stereoscopic 3D broadcast to be carried by a U.S. cable operator. It will be delivered across Comcast's national footprint and will also be available through video-on-demand after the tournament. Comcast has no deals to carry any other 3D content in the near future, said Moyer, though the operator has had preliminary discussions with ESPN about carrying its 3D channel when it launches in June. DirecTV is the only U.S. pay-TV operator which has committed to deliver a full-time 3D service, with its planned launch of three 3D channels by June.
The 3D Masters coverage will be produced by ESPN using the NEP SS 3D truck. Comcast will ingest the feed at Comcast Media Center in Denver and then transmit it to customers using the 1080i, "side-by- side" frame-compatible 3D HD format. The 3D broadcasts can be received by Comcast's latest HD set-tops and transmitted over HDMI connections to new 3D TV sets without requiring any software update to the set-tops. Comcast does plan to make a firmware upgrade to its HD set-tops later this year to make sure that they can support the program guide and other functions in 3D.
Comcast has been
offering anaglyph 3D movies, including "Hannah Montana" and "Final Destination"
through its video-on-demand platform since 2008 that can be viewed with
red-and-blue glasses, noted Moyer. It has seen some strong demand even with the
older anaglyph technology. For example, 65% of the on-demand orders for "My
Bloody Valentine" were for the 3D version.
In addition to early adopters' homes, the 3D Masters broadcasts will be viewable in various hospitality tents at Augusta National. Comcast is also considering organizing some public viewing venues for the 3D coverage, with possibilities including retail stores and its Philadelphia headquarters. But those plans haven't been finalized.
Following the Masters, Comcast will look to make more stereoscopic 3D content available, says Moyer, including movies and sporting events.
"This is the beginning of the future," she said.
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