ESPN Engineer Deems 3DTV Production the ‘Ultimate Science Experiment’
NEW YORK: With demand for 3D content for television
increasing exponentially, broadcast engineers are navigating a steep learning
curve during each new production.
With 3D “everything is a new experience,” said Chuck Pagano, executive vice
president of technology, engineering and operations for ESPN. “I call 3D ‘the
ultimate science experiment.’” Pagano made his comments during NewBay Media’s
3DTV 2010 conference in New York this week. The ESPN technology chief
participated in a panel on 3DTV production during a conference that included
leading figures from broadcast, cable, satellite and retail.
ESPN is at the forefront of 3DTV, with the anticipated launch of ESPN 3D on
June 11. The network will mark the debut of the nation’s first dedicated 3DTV
channel with the broadcast of the Mexico-South Africa opening match of the FIFA
World Cup. ESPN will broadcast 25 of the 64 matches in 3D during the month-long
As with HD a decade ago, much of the early content for 3DTV involves live
sports coverage. Much of the discussion focused on the difficulties in
determining 3D production elements while maintaining the 2D experience for what
is expected to be the majority of viewers for some time. One thing all
panelists agreed on, though--there is no sport that doesn’t look better in 3D.
Nevertheless, “I think you’re going to find some sports lend themselves better
to 3D than others,” said Ken Aagaard, executive vice president of engineering,
operations and production for CBS Sports, which produced the 2010 NCAA Final Four
in 3D. Aagaard added that, because interest in 3DTV has grown so quickly,
broadcasters producing 3D content are trying to keep in step with networks
wanting to market and promote the technology.
“We in production are behind this time,” he said. “With HD, the engineering and
production people were trying to push the media.”
Now, with 3DTV, it’s the production guys trying to catch up with sales and
Panelists shared tips for producing effective 3D content that entertains
viewers without overwhelming them, while keeping the focus on the game intact.
“There’s a great deal of attention to detail in a 3D production that starts
with securing the proper camera positions and then extends to the director, the
camera people, and the convergence operator that’s actually choosing the point
of focus in the shot,” said Steve Hellmuth, executive vice president,
operations and technology for the National Basketball League. The NBA was among
the first organizations to dip their toe into live 3DTV production, with a 3D
library that extends back to 2007.
Hellmuth said that before his production crew takes on a new event in 3D, they
carefully review their previous 3D productions on both large and small screens.
Because sales of 3DTV sets just a few months ago, it’s anticipated that much of
the live 3DTV production will be seen in theaters for the near future.
Comparing the differences between producing in 2D and 3D was a common theme
throughout the discussion.
“The language of 2D sports television has evolved over the past 50 to 60 years
based on the fact that the average viewer watched it on a 20-inch screen,” said
George Hoover, chief technology officer for Pittsburgh-based NEP Broadcasting,
which launched the nation’s first 3D production truck in the fall of 2009.
The extreme close-ups and wide shots characteristic of today’s sports coverage
don’t work as well in 3D. “You really need to let people ‘live inside the
frame,’” said Hellmuth, who also advised that directors will need to refrain
from the fast cutaways inherent in current sports coverage to allow viewers to
enjoy the 3D effect. “We really need to slow the directors down and constantly
reinforce with the camera crews that this is a different experience and that
they have to attend to the details of viewers’ needs.”
Sharing 3D and 2D content within the same production is a necessary element to
live sports coverage as not all shots lend themselves to 3D. Although Aagaard
acknowledged that due to the different camera positions required for 2D and 3D
content, “for the moment, it looks like we’re going to look at two separate
Steve Schklair, CEO of 3D camera rig provider 3ality Digital Systems, warned
that the cost of deploying two camera crews is unrealistic in the long run.
“That economic model won’t sustain itself for very long,” he said.
Production of 3D content is ramping up quickly; Hoover announced that NEP plans
to launch up to three new 3D production trucks in 2010, with the first two being
deployed in time for July’s MLB All-Star Game in Seattle. He also hinted that a
telecast of a Broadway production in 3D may come as soon as this fall.
Despite concerns over deploying the technology, all agreed that 3D is here to
stay and that it will enhance the television viewing experience--and that the
lessons learned from each new production will improve the techniques.
“It’s all about how you tell the story,” Pagano said. “We are just telling it
from a different perspective.”
Added Alec Shapiro, senior vice president, broadcast and professional sales
division for Sony, “it’s the latest production in 3D that looks the best. The
techniques are improving.”
-- Tom Butts of TV Technology
For additional coverage of the
NewBay-sponsored 3DTV 2010 breakfast, see:
TV May Spur Audio Sales: TWICE Panel” (TWICE)
Perry: Standards, Education, Content Critical To 3D Adoption” (TWICE)
Demos Will Drive 3D Sales” (TWICE)
“Consumer Adoption Still Uncertain” (Broadcasting
(Image of E. Pantano repairing an exhibit in the chemistry section
of the Chicago World’s Fair Hall of Science in 1934, from Century of Progress
Records, 1927-1952, University of Illinois at Chicago Library.)