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Comcast, other Cablers offer Masters in 3D

Comcast today (April 7) began feeding portions of the Masters golf tourney in 3D – marking the first time that 3D content is being presented live in a non-proprietary venue.

Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision also are expected to include some 3D coverage in their respective EPGs. And as luck would have it (especially for the license rights' networks, CBS and ESPN), the Masters also marks the return of Tiger Woods to the circuit after a voluntary (sort of) hiatus of several months to deal with personal issues. Both networks are anticipating huge ratings by the scheduled end of the tourney on Sunday (weather permitting, and if Tiger makes the cut).

Still, for 3D proponents there is a big Catch-22: Viewers need one of those new 3D-enabled TV sets or 3D computer monitors (along with the requisite special glasses) in order to actually see any three-dimensional effects in the coverage. Therefore, the 3D audience is expected to be extremely small, which Comcast concedes — telling its subs that much of the 3D activity is to further raise awareness of 3D's potential as a visual medium.

"In fact, this event will mark a series of industry firsts: the first live national next-generation 3D broadcast of a major sporting event on TV; the first live simulcast of a next-gen 3D event online; and the industry's first live multi-camera next-gen 3D production," said Comcast Senior Vice President Derek Harrar in a recent blog to Comcast viewers.

Not all tournament coverage will be in 3D. Harrar said Comcast (the nation's largest TV service provider who's attempting to buy NBC Universal) is dedicating a special 3D channel that will show about two hours of live footage on a daily basis. "Our engineers in Comcast Labs have been testing transmission of footage from Augusta National [golf course] over the past few weeks and I can tell you that it's nothing short of spectacular…The challenges to the players represented by the varied contours of the course come alive — and I particularly liked one shot where the sand flew up from the bunker. Wow," Harrar said.

Working with IBM and Sony, Comcast is using its fiber network to carry a 3D production feed to the Comcast Media Center, where it's packaging it for distribution to its various local systems — and to the Masters' Web site, which also requires a 3D monitor and glasses.

And as for us mere mortal HD junkies, fear not. "Traditional" Masters coverage via good, old fashioned 2D HD is available throughout the tourney on ESPN this week, and on CBS on the weekend.