Behind the Scenes of ESPN3D

Is 3D TV worth it? I guess that depends.

Do you have $1,500 of expendable cash and feel the need to be on the cutting edge of technology?

Currently there just isn’t that much content available for consumers that buy 3D TV but if you’re a sports junkie it might be worth considering. ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Sports, is also the worldwide leader in sports technology, and they’re getting out in front of the 3D curve.

I was able to attend the Big East tournament, check out the process of producing a live event in 3D and interview lead producer of ESPN3D, Josh Hoffman.

The biggest problem facing the 3D sports broadcast has to do with the technology. If you’ve ever seen a 3D broadcast then you’ve seen a 3D image that just didn’t quite look right.

“When you’re working an HD show, if the camera shot isn’t just right, it’s still pretty good,” Hoffman said. “In 3D, either things are perfect or bad. There is a much smaller margin of error.”

Sometimes it’s as if the image isn’t completely aligned and appears a bit blurred.

But the technology and production has come a long way and that’s in part due to how they trained to produce for 3D. After heading out to Los Angeles to meet with the Pace, the leader in 3D technology, and studying diagrams on how the technology works, the ESPN crew headed back to Bristol to put their knowledge into action.

“We brought in our trucks in and set up eight cameras on a football field in Connecticut and brought in a semi-pro football team for 2 days and just had them run plays and looked at different ways to cover it,” Hoffman said.

Through this exercise they learned what angles worked and didn’t and what made the best use out of 3D. They then implemented these lessons in the fall during the college football season and continue to set the blueprint for how to broadcast in the cutting edge format.

“It needs to be both different and a better experience than HD,” Hoffman said. “But it also needs to deliver the content and all the information and everything about the game.”

It’s a balancing act that they are still working on. Sports viewers are used to certain angles and the game itself is first and foremost. The 3D technology is meant to enhance the experience, not completely change it.

With any sort of new technology, there are bound to be some logistical issues. Obviously, HD broadcasts aren’t going anywhere in the near future and that means ESPN must set up both HD and 3D cameras.

That can prove to be difficult in arenas not built for a second setup.

“A lot of the places we’d like to have cameras are places that would block seats,” Hoffman said. “That’s one of the limiting factors is how do you not block people in the house but find places that make sense for us.”

There is one benefit for those who adopt to the technology early.

Since 3D TV is in its infancy, so is advertising in the new format. That means the broadcasts have less commercials than that of HD meaning more content for those few on the cutting edge of technology.

Personally, I plan on waiting until the price point drops and more importantly, more content becomes available.

But just like HDTV, sports will pave the way for 3D and with ESPN behind the new technology, it’s only a matter of time before most living rooms in the country have a few pairs of 3D glasses laying around.