The CBC will launch this country’s first 3-D hockey broadcast on Saturday night, promising viewers the most realistic sports television they’ve ever experienced.
Call it Avatar meets Hockey Night in Canada.
The groundbreaking broadcast of Saturday’s Montreal-Toronto game will involve seven extra cameras and a separate production crew all aimed at trying to give viewers the feeling they’re sitting in the first row at the Air Canada Centre, minus the $9 beer prices.
“It’s going to be pretty cool,” says Hockey Night in Canada senior executive producer Trevor Pilling. “Hockey has all the elements that make 3-D work.”
But in many ways Saturday’s broadcast will be a lot like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. Will 3-D matter if nobody is watching?
There are no figures available on the number of 3-D sets in Canadian homes. But since the TV industry keeps downgrading its sales targets and the lack of content has stalled sales of 3-D converters, it’s safe to assume CBC’s audience will be in the thousands at most.
But that’s irrelevant to those who’ve taken up the 3-D challenge. They see this as the next wave and want to be on the cutting edge.
“It’s important for us to be first out of the gate and we consider ourselves to be innovators,” Pilling says. “We were the first to do HD in 2003 and we want to continue that pioneering spirit.”
There’s plenty of debate on the viability of 3-D in sports broadcasting. Some see it as the logical progression from high definition while others call it a gimmick that’s too pricey for wallets strained by investing in HD.
Doomed to failure or not, 3-D is just one of the many innovations that will hit broadcasting in the next decade and, as always, sports fans will be at the forefront. Most of the 3-D TV offerings have involved sports.
“For half a century, sports has been the leading place for innovation in media and it will continue to be,” says Alon Marcovici, executive vice-president of digital media for CTV. “It has regular irreplaceable live content that you get maybe half a dozen times a year in other key events.”
In all cases, nobody’s really sure which ones will stick.
THE THIRD DIMENSION
The main stumbling block to a 3-D revolution is the fact viewing requires expensive and clumsy glasses. But specs-free sets are already in development and it’s only a matter of time before they will be market ready. Still, even ESPN, which launched its own 3-D channel this year, isn’t ready to commit long-term.
“Whether this is something we repeat or continue or cut is something that at this point we have very little indication on one way or another,” Jonathan Pannaman, ESPN’s senior director of technology, told a European sports conference recently. “We’re still not sure what makes sense for 3-D TV…”
CBC will show February’s outdoor NHL game in 3-D, but has no plans for more at this point.
“My opinion is that 3-D as a product will be fantastic, but it’s somewhat ahead of its time right now,” says Marcovici.
Within a few years, your television set is likely to become more like your computer and vice versa. This merging of technologies is already happening.
“You’ll watch a game and split your screen to get stats, or if the announcer mentions Sidney Crosby’s goal the night before, you can call that up while pausing the live game,” says Marcovici. “At the Vancouver Olympics, everything was available live. In the future not only will everything live be available to you, but so will everything that’s ever been created.”
A big part of that merger will be the social aspect, he says. Instead of gathering around the TV set to watch the big game, fans will use the Internet to interact while the game is on. “TV is going from lean back to lean forward to lean forward and share with other like-minded people,” Marcovici says.
I, ROBOTIC CAMERA
As technology advances, cameras will become smaller and more versatile. Pilling believes hockey broadcasts will improve greatly with tracking cameras that follow players around the ice to give a better idea of the game’s speed. A cable-cam can do that but is far too intrusive.
Robotic cameras might be the answer to that and a lot of other issues. Disney is already experimenting with game broadcasts done solely with unmanned cameras.
They not only would allow cameras to go where no one has gone before, but would substantially reduce the need for high-priced operators. Not only would broadcasts be done with more cameras, lesser events could get big-league coverage.
TV ON THE GO
High-definition broadcasts are already available on smart phones so you can watch games even if you’re nowhere near a TV. Content is limited right now but that will change very soon as rights issues are settled.
“You can’t ignore the march of portability,” says Marcovici. `”The ability to never miss a key moment with your favourite team is getting there.”
BELIEVE IT OR NOT
These gadgets may sound like something out of Star Trek, but they are being talked about and in some cases being worked on.
One is holographic television, which would produce 3-D images that float in front of your TV. Researchers at the University of Arizona, who have been working on holographic technology for 20 years, say it’s only a matter of time.
And if you think that a 60-inch screen is a bit too big for your living room, you might be interested in watching games on contact lenses. Britain’s Future Laboratory, which tracks trends, says the technology already exists.