It’s taken a few months longer than planned, but I finally got a review sample of a 3D TV to test here at home. After a few requests to the major TV manufacturers, Samsung was the first to step up to the plate, and shipped me a 46-inch UN46C7000 LED LCD TV (the only 46-inch 3D set in their line), plus a 3D starter kit that included a 3D BD copy of Monsters vs. Aliens.
Because no Blu-ray players were available when I made my request for a review sample, I decided to bite the bullet and purchase my own 3D Blu-ray player. Not surprisingly, I got the best deal on Samsung’s BD-C6900 at Amazon.com ($244 plus shipping) and had it a day later.
Of course, right after I placed that order, Samsung’s PR agency emailed me that they had just gotten a shipment of BD-C6800s in stock and one was on its way to me. Figures! (Now I have four copies of Monsters – one that came with each player, one with the starter kit, and one I picked up at the company’s 3D Line Show earlier this year.)
Setting the TV up didn’t take very long. I had previously called Comcast and asked them to turn on channel 980 – ESPN 3D – a channel that shows a top+bottom barker graphic most of the time. My goal was to watch the Ohio State – Miami football game in 3D, using either my Pace 110-series set-top box (3D-compatible) or my TiVo HD (also 3D-compatible).
The Pace box won out. IO placed the TV, set-top box, and Blu-ray player on a mobile printer stand and wheeled it into my family room, opened up the 3D starter kit and verified both pairs of glasses were working, and waited for the game to start.
In addition to the channel barker, ESPN has also been showing clips from an earlier Virginia Tech – Boise State 3D telecast and a Harlem Globetrotters game. When you first tune the channel in, you will see the distinctive top+bottom left and right eye images that are standard for the 1280×720 3D picture format. Top+bottom is used to preserve as much horizontal resolution as possible; otherwise, you’d wind up with a pair of 960×720 images side-by-side.
The UN46C7000’s menu will guide you quickly to 3D mode, which you then turn ON. After that, you need to tell the TV which delivery method is in use – side-by-side, or top+bottom. You’d think the TV could figure this out automatically, given the HD signal. But it doesn’t.
Once you have a pair of double full-frame images, you’re ready to watch. Hold down the power button on the glasses for a full second, and they will turn on, acquire the infrared sync signal from the TV, and start showing you a 3D image.
The game came on while there was still quite a bit of daylight. As a result, I saw a noticeable flicker when I looked out the window to my right. In fact, if any part of the window was in the field of view of the glasses, the flicker was evident. Something to think about when you choose a position for a 3D TV!
As expected, the images are quite a bit darker with the glasses on. So I elected to watch in Standard and not Cinema mode. (The TV isn’t calibrated yet.) This gave me a brighter image with more color and contrast ‘pop.’
Note: I only lost sync once or twice during the first half of the game, and have no idea what caused the glasses to switch off.
Just for the fun of it, I turned on the ESPN HD (2D) telecast of the same game on my adjacent Panasonic 42-inch 1080p plasma set. The first thing I noticed right away was a drastic variation in camera angles. The 2D broadcast had numerous high-angle shots and cutaways so you could see the yard markers, while the 3D telecast was produced more from the perspective of a viewer in the lower grandstands and consequently didn’t show as much of the field.
It was actually harder to tell if a field goal attempt was good on the 3D screen because of this choice of angles. However, you could see the football clearly all the way to (and through) the goalposts on the 2D broadcast. From my perspective, the 2D coverage won out in terms of keeping you informed of field position.
I also have to say that about half the 3D shots would have worked as well in 2D. Those shots included wide views of the field with all 22 players visible – what we would call a wide angle shot in the world of videography.
In real life, there are little in the way of depth cues at this viewing distance other than occlusion, interposition, and motion parallax. All of these visual cues help your brain interpret the relative distances between objects by the relationship between each other in space – objects that are closer to you move by your field of view more quickly than objects in the distance, which appear fixed or slow-moving.
Closeup shots had much more dramatic 3D effects, particularly those taken in the huddle, along the sideline, and in the end zone. Coaches, officials, and players walked in and out of the frame with an enhanced sense of depth, one that was more intense as I sat closer to the screen. The 3D coverage won the day here.
There were also some negative parallax effects as out-of-focus players and other objects momentarily appeared in the foreground. You’ll know when you see those kinds of images right away, because your eyes will strain as they try to converge them. To your brain, negative parallax implies that objects are in positioned front of the screen (the surface of which represents zero parallax), but they also disappear behind the edges of the screen, implying they also are behind it. (Get out the Motrin!)
The ESPN announcers (Joe Tessitore and ex-NFL and Notre Dame star Tim Brown) were making a big deal about the 3D coverage, stating that certain plays could only be seen clearly in 3D. Balderdash! A spectacular Ohio State TD catch and a Miami kickoff return for another touchdown were just as amazing in 2D, and also benefited from the higher camera angles and pints of view. It’s hard to judge just how far down the field a player is when viewing a compressed telephone shot – 3D or 2D. And the 3D coverage was limited to almost field-level views.
At one point, an Ohio State pass was overthrown and bounced towards and then past the end zone point of view. Once again, Joe Tessitore marveled at the 3D effects as the ball careened perilously close to the camera, saying to Brown, “Wow, Tim – you could have reached out and caught it! Isn’t 3D amazing?” (Brown said nothing; I just shrugged my shoulders. Hey, it’s part of Joe’s job to get viewers pumped up about the coverage.)
At halftime, Ohio State was up 26-17 and I decided I had seen enough. The sun was going down and it was time to squeeze in an hour of sunset kayaking while the weather was still good. (Reality is amazing. 3D has nothing on it!)
My initial viewing distance was seven feet, or 84 inches from the TV. That works out to about 1.8x the screen diagonal, which is too long a distance for such a small 3D screen. My recommendations are 1.3x to 1.5x, and that means I should have been using a 55-inch or 65-inch screen for a truly immersive 3D experience.
My ‘take’ after watching the Buckeyes – Hurricanes tilt is that today’s TV coverage of football benefits minimally from 3D. Directors, producers, and camera operators have spent years developing and mastering all kinds of unusual camera shots that help you see the action from just about every possible angle, even from a ‘bird’s eye view’ camera that zooms across the field.
Football, more than other sports, is defined by inches and yards. The multiple camera angles that show you how much yardage is needed for a first down, or whether the nose of the ball broke the plane of the goal line, are just as effective in 2D as they are in 3D. I watched several replays of kickoff runbacks and amazing catches on both TVs and found no advantage to the 3D coverage.
And the reality is that better than 70% of the camera shots in a football game are long shots or wide shots, which let you see a good chunk of the field and many of the players. That was one of the key selling points for HDTV coverage, which benefits all sports immensely. More image detail? Great! A wider screen? Perfect!
3D effects in wide and compressed telephoto shots? Eh…
My conclusion is that you can watch a football game in 2D and lose nothing in the experience. It’s just as exciting (or boring, if a rout), you have numerous angles to see every crucial play, and most importantly, you have those frequent high-angle views that let you see where the team is exactly on the playing field… and how many more yards are needed for that crucial first down.
Placing a 3D camera at that high an angle would be a waste – players and field are so compressed together that you’d see little in the way of 3D cues. 2D is just as effective here.
If anything, a bigger HDTV screen – maybe even one with 4K resolution – would produce a more intense, involved experience. Of course, if that picture resolution were widely available, more fans might stop going to games and simply watch at home.
Now, what WOULD be cool would be to install a 3D camera in a few of the player’s helmets. Or even in the football. Imagine the view as it tumbled over and over, speeding its way towards the goalposts.
On second thought, maybe not. I don’t think the country is ready for ‘Puke-o-vision’ yet..
Posted by Pete Putman, September 12, 2010 1:30 PM
About Pete PutmanPeter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.
Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.