ESPN 3D Launches With World Cup Opener
ESPN 3D got off to a successful launch today with the opening match of the 2010 World Cup, produced by Host Broadcast Services (HBS), reaching 3D viewers across the country via DirecTV, Comcast Cable, and AT&T U-verse. It also marked the debut of a 3D master-control area in Building 13 at ESPN’s Bristol, CT, campus.
“This gives me the same tingly sensation we had when we launched HD and even launching ESPN in 1979,” says ESPN EVP of Technology Chuck Pagano. “We’ve been working closely with HBS as part of their rehearsals and have been transferring knowledge back and forth from the get-go.”
ESPN marked the occasion with a screening of the game in Bristol, on both a Samsung 72-in. DLP set with active glasses and a 50-in. LCD Hyundai TV set with passive glasses.
The quality of game coverage remained high throughout the broadcast, with few if any transmission glitches or convergence problems. The highlight was the replays, with the replay of the South African goal when the ball seemed destined to fly out of the screen and hit the viewer, topping the list. Most of the game coverage shot from the traditional soccer upper-level camera positions also provided enough depth, giving viewers a sense of the distance between players and the speed of the action.
The 3D feed was delivered from South Africa via a 622-Mbps fiber pipe that handles all transmission for ESPN’s programming and communications. The left- and right-eye feeds were transmitted as two separate channels and delivered to DirecTV, Comcast, and AT&T as discrete channels via Media Xtreme in New York City. The signals were 1080i/50 Hz and then upconverted to 59.94 Hz for U.S. distribution.
The master-control facility features a Pixel Power production switcher and graphics and Abekas Mira server for commercial and interstitial playback.
“We are crawling before we run,” says Pagano of the technical facility, which also includes Quantel Pablo editing systems for finishing and postproduction. The 3D transmission will make the move to MPEG-4 (along with the rest of ESPN’s 2D transmission) early next year.
The launch today culminated a two-year process that has involved 40 staffers in 16 ESPN departments. Although ESPN will not be producing the World Cup games, next month will feature a number of high-profile 3D ESPN productions, including the Home Run Derby on July 12 in Anaheim, CA, and the Summer XGames at the end of July from Los Angeles.
Pagano says the biggest challenge for all involved, especially on the production side, is learning how to “unlearn” years of 2D experience. “You need to approach 3D with a fairly open mind because you are trying to tell the story differently. When it comes to placement [in the frame] of the objects you are shooting and movement or pan/tilt/zoom, we are finding that less is more.”
Much of that learning is a result of work done at ESPN’s Technology Center in Orlando.
“The biggest challenge for us is still the number of 3D production trucks that are available, not the equipment itself,” says Pagano. He is hopeful that the need for equipment rebuilds in the existing HD trucks in the market will see an uptick 3D capabilities via 3G routing and signal distribution.
Whether more and more truck vendors join the likes of NEP and All Mobile Video in building vehicles from the ground up with 3D in mind remains to be seen. Consumers will need to embrace 3D business models, and revenue streams need to be created (beyond simply relying on consumer-electronics companies sponsoring channels and productions), and more content needs to be produced.
Simply put, 3D needs to become a business. Regardless of all the challenges, Pagano is certain that the first factor, consumers’ embrace of the format, will happen, especially among the younger demographics.
“They are in the high-pressure zone since Avatar and Alice in Wonderland,” he says. “People want to watch 3D, and we’re serving those fans.”