The MacGuffin

Bespectacled Spectators: Will viewers embrace 3D TV channels?

Posted by Lauren Rugani on January 5, 2010

3D television is set to pop up in our living rooms this year, when ESPN airs the FIFA World Cup in 3D on June 11.

After several failed attempts to see Avatar in IMAX, I finally succumbed to seeing it in regular old Digital 3D last weekend. Unfortunately, the one-size-fits-all 3D glasses did not sit securely on my face and I sat there for nearly three hours (including 3D previews) holding the spectral spectacles in place. I was also eating popcorn and ended up with several buttery smudges on the lenses, which made for an even more miserable viewing experience, but that is neither here nor there.

The point I intend to make (eventually) is that 3D would be a lot cooler without the glasses. But first, the news: ESPN and The Discovery Channel announced today that they will begin to broadcast 3D entertainment in your living room as early as this year. ESPN plans to have a channel dedicated exclusively to 3D sporting events, the first being the FIFA World Cup match on June 11. It won’t run 24 hours a day, but has plans to air 85 live events in its first year. Discovery is aiming for a full-time 3D network, but hasn’t said which shows it will run.

3D video technology has slowly leaked its way out of the cinemas and into our homes. Last year, the last commercial before halftime of Superbowl XLIII (a sporting event historically known for its pricey but innovative ads) was a 90-second trailer for the DreamWorks movie, Monsters vs. Aliens – in 3D. Later that evening, Pepsi ran a 3D ad for its SoBe beverage. And all viewers had to do to enjoy the life-like experience of ballet-dancing football players partying with blinged-out lizards and gelatinous fairy tale characters was go to the nearest convenience store and pick up a free pair of glasses.

I have to admit, I never got the glasses. By the time I even realized that these commercials were in 3D I would have wasted half the ad locating my specs and putting them on. Wouldn’t it be cooler if the whole game was in 3D and the TV had, like, some sort of thing that made it look 3D even if you weren’t wearing glasses?

But that simple thought touches on some of the problems that keep 3D technology mainly in theaters. First, a 3D broadcast might be exciting (and financially feasible) for one-time events like the Superbowl or a U2 concert, but what about for 20-something episodes of Grey’s or even your local nightly news? A few shows have tried it: 90s sitcom Third Rock From the Sun aired a two-part partial-3D episode that alerted viewers when to put on or remove their glasses. More recently, Medium (in 2005) and Chuck (in 2009, the Monday after the 3D superbowl ads) attempted 3D episodes. All of them left audiences disenchanted with the technology that made movies so magical.

Second, TVs unfortunately don’t come equipped with “some sort of thing” that makes it look 3D even if you aren’t wearing glasses. Some manufacturers have released “3D ready” sets, which allow you to watch 3D movies on DVD or BluRay, but a true 3D experience will require expensive screens, cable boxes, converters, wires, etc. (Supposedly, 3D TVs will be all the rage at this year’s CES conference, with some experts making predictions as to how the technology will advance over the next year.)

Finally, there really is no way around the glasses, at least not yet. Whether they are the cheap, ugly, disposable red and blue version, $100 LCD shutter glasses, or something in between, we’re just gonna have to deal with them.

While I think it would be fascinating to watch an Olympic competition or a Planet Earth ep in 3D, I’m not ready to plunk down thousands of dollars on state-of-the-art equipment for mediocre sitcoms, movies I’ve already seen in the theater, and oversized glasses.

The AP reported Chuck Pagano, VP of technology at ESPN, saying that his network is preparing for a “3D tsunami” in the TV industry. As far as I can recall, when a tsunami comes, don’t people run the other way?

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2 Responses to “Bespectacled Spectators: Will viewers embrace 3D TV channels?”

  1. Rob Smith said

    Cool, there is actually some great ideas on here some of my subscribers may find this relevant, I will send them a link, many thanks.

  2. Hi how are you i really liked this.

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