Comcast gave New York media a preview of what 3D coverage of The Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club will look like next week, simulating a live feed by transmitting 3D test footage from Augusta across its fiber network and delivering it through Motorola HD set-tops to LG and Sony consumer 3D sets.
The demonstration was designed to replicate the transmission path Comcast will use next week to deliver the 3D coverage to HD customers who have bought a new 3D-capable set, said Comcast Senior VP Mark Hess, as well as to package it to other operators that will carry the Masters 3D feed including Time Warner Cable, Cox, Cablevision and Canadian operator Shaw. Comcast was playing the footage off a server in the NEP/PACE SS-3D production truck situated at Augusta National, backhauling it over fiber to Comcast Media Center (CMC) in Denver, then compressing it for final delivery to the home and sending it back out over its fiber network to local delivery points.
The 3D demonstration, held at SNY Studios in midtown Manhattan, featured an LG 3D set that used Real D passive glasses and a Sony 3D set that used battery-powered active glasses. Comcast also showed the 3D footage on a 3D-capable Acer laptop that worked with the passive glasses, simulating the free 3D Web stream that will be available during the tournament on masters.com.
Sony is sponsoring the 3D production through a deal with Augusta National, and Comcast will be delivering the 3D feed to Sony displays in hospitality tents at the club. Comcast will also provide the feed to IBM, which is supporting the 3D Web stream on masters.com.
According to Comcast Fellow Mark Francisco, the Masters 3D feed will be delivered in the 1080i, side-by-side format over an ASI stream to CMC, where it will be compressed to 18.75 megabits per second for final delivery to the home. That is the same rate that Comcast typically delivers for live 2D HD sports telecasts today, he adds.
While the New York demonstration used an MPEG-4 feed, Comcast will use MPEG-2 compression for the national feed to ensure that it is viewable by all existing Comcast HD set-tops. Comcast will also use multiplexing technology from 3D specialist RealD to deliver the side-by-side format. RealD's technology has been adopted by a number of set-maker including Sony, Samsung and Vizio, and was licensed by Cablevision for its 3D telecast of a New York Rangers hockey game last week.
The Web feed, which relied on advanced compression technology and a software-based 3D player, was delivered at a bitrate of 4.5 Mbps.
ESPN is producing the Masters coverage with PACE, and regular ESPN commentators Mike Tirico, Terry Gannon and Andy North will call the action. Coverage will include two hours of the Par 3 Tournament on Wed., Apr. 7 on holes 4, 8 and 9, airing live from 3-5 pm EST. Coverage of the main tournament from Thurs., Apr. 8 through Sun., Apr. 11 will feature holes 14, 16 and 18 with rotating coverage of holes 10-13 and 17. It will air live from 4 pm-6 pm EST on Thursday and Friday and from 5-8 pm EST on Saturday and Sunday. On-demand replays will also be available.
Comcast executives didn't disclose any future 3D programming plans, and declined to comment on the status of carriage negotiations with ESPN over its upcoming 3D channel. They said that plans for public viewing parties for the Masters were still being formulated, and would probably consist mostly of VIP and press events.
Hess did confirm that Comcast will be providing a feed to Sony Style stores that cross its footprint. Sony executives have told B&C that there will be a 3D viewing event at the Sony Style store at Comcast Center in Philadelphia. Part of the challenge with public viewing parties is a lack of 3D sets; Sony won't get meaningful volume of its new 3D sets until June.
Hess, a former college golfer who has had the opportunity to play Augusta National, is eagerly anticipating the coverage. He says he was "blown away" by 3D's ability to accurately depict the elevation changes of Augusta National, which he called the true challenge of the course. He expects particularly dramatic shots from the par-4 10th hole, which features a downhill fairway and a green that slopes sharply right to left.