Skip to main content

3-D sports production takes off with a vengeance

Whether the public will embrace 3-D TV sets and the required glasses in large numbers is still debatable, but several consumer electronics companies and sports channels are investing a lot of time and money to encourage them to buy.

This week, MSG Network produced a 3-D commercial telecast of an NHL hockey game between the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders, live from Madison Square Garden in New York City. The game was distributed in 3-D to Cablevision subscribers throughout the metropolitan area — at least to the ones who happen to have a 3-D-capable HDTV receiver. The 3-D TV sets are available from Panasonic and Samsung, with models from Sony coming in June.

For the 3-D telecast, MSG used six 3Ality Digital cameras fed back by a side-by-side multiplex to a Game Creek Video truck (Yankee Clipper, complete with a Grass Valley Kalypso HD switcher) to capture the game. From MSG, the 1.5Mb/s signal was encoded with a Harris NetVX encoder to 19.7Mb/s and sent to Cablevision's Hicksville, NY, headend, where it was distributed to the public on iO TV Channel 1300. A special viewing party, with a $20 a head ticket price, was held in the Theater at Madison Square Garden, where the signal was passed through the NetVX encoder. The viewing eyeglasses and large (720p) polarized 3-D screen were supplied by RealD. Samsung provided a number of 42in flat-panel LCD 3-D screens for VIP guests in a separate room.

Initially it appeared that Comcast would do the first 3-D broadcast, of the Masters Golf Tournament, sponsored by Sony; however, it appears that MSG decided to jump in first. Now, Sky TV, using about 15,000 displays from LG Electronics, will launch Sky 3D on April 3 in Europe. It will carry the Premier League football match between Manchester United and Chelsea.

Sky TV said more than a thousand European pubs and clubs have signed up for their new 3-D service. Sky said that an additional five football games will be shown in 3-D before the end of the season. Residential 3-D TV service, Sky said, is not planned in Europe until later in the year.


While it will attempt to bring some of the World Cup soccer matches from South Africa to the United States in 3-D, ESPN 3D is officially scheduled to launch on July 12, with the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby. Eighty-five sports events are planned for 3-D broadcast by ESPN this year, including the ACC College Football Championship Game in December.

Comcast will begin 3-D telecasts of the Masters on April 7 from the Augusta National Golf Club (coinciding with the NAB convention in Las Vegas). Working with dual Sony HDC-1500 HD cameras on special PACE rigs, it will be one of the biggest and most ambitious 3-D productions the two companies have done to date. NEP Supershooters will use its Supershooter 3D (SS3D) truck to produce the event on-site. The truck will include a Sony MVS 8000 switcher operated in dual-link mode.

Leveraging Vince Pace’s FUSION 3D technology, SS3D features a 3-D production viewing area, a convergence station, 3-D capable tape and video and engineering rooms. It’s wired for eight 3-D cameras, two six-channel EVS XT[2] servers, 10 tape machines and an SSL Aysis Air PLUS! digital audio console.

Special encoding techniques will be used to take the right-eye and left-eye feeds from the Augusta National course and send them via a single 1.5Gb/s feed as a side-by-side multiplex to the local Comcast headend facility in Denver, where it will be available on a single HD channel to other Comcast systems for display on 3-D-capable TVs via a subscriber’s set-top box and HDMI connection.

Consumers with new 3-D TVs and 3-D-enabled personal computers will be able to watch the golf tournament live in 3-D until the end of the golf event April 11.

Comcast will use a dedicated 3-D channel that will show about two hours of live footage each day. This channel will display different camera angles tailored to the tournament coverage.

“There’s no mandate for 3-D, so we have to create a product that everyone wants to have,” said Rob Willox, Sony’s director of marketing for professional content creation products. “It’s got to be so compelling that consumers will want to go out and buy a new TV set in order to get this incredible experience they never had before. However, producing a live 3-D telecast is enormously challenging. We can’t always predict the action on the field, so that makes it much more difficult to process stereo images on the fly. At this point, 3-D is really an emerging art form.”

Comcast Labs has been testing transmission of footage from Augusta National over the past few weeks. The cable provider will use its fiber network to carry a 3-D production feed provided to the Comcast Media Center in Denver, where it will be packaged for distribution to its systems and the Masters’ Web site. Sony and IBM are playing critical roles in working with Comcast and the tournament officials to make the broadcast possible.

In addition to early adopters of 3-D TV sets, users will be able to play the live 3-D stream at the Masters Web site on a personal computer, using a 3-D media player, monitor and glasses. Traditional Masters Tournament coverage will continue to be available in HD on CBS and ESPN with highlights on-demand and online.