“Avatar,” ESPN and 3-D Television

I saw “Avatar” in the theater a couple weeks ago, and it was badass. Do yourself a favor and go see in the theaters or IMAX. The story and the characters make a good film on their own, but what really impressed me were the 3-D effects.

I haven’t seen a 3-D movie before “Avatar.” Recent 3-D films like “My Bloody Valentine” and “Monsters vs. Aliens,” aren’t exactly my favorite genres. But my misconceptions about the effects were thrown out the window as soon as the 3D previews and commercials (yes 3-D Coke ads) began. Computer-generated imagery (CGI) has really improved the technology over the last few years allowing objects to jump off the screen, and make it feel like you’re physically in the middle of the action. It was much more realistic than I imagined. Even the cheesy red and blue paper glasses have been replaced by some tolerable Buddy Holly style hard plastic frames and lenses.

So when I heard last week that ESPN and Discovery were each launching 3-D television networks later this year, I was pumped. Starting with the World Cup this summer I can watch sports in 3-D the next Shark Week will reach a whole new level . How great is that?

But the more I read about the technology, and the more I thought about the possibilities, the less excited I was. When using CGI, the action is artificially created, and can be specifically designed for 3-D. For example, a CGI explosion could have a piece of shrapnel headed right for the screen. But in filming live action, you’d blow the camera up trying to achieve that, right? Most of Avatar’s action was CGI. Even when humans and not the animated aliens were on-screen, so it was perfect for 3-D. But a live event like sports is not.

The majority of sporting events are shot from a wide angle so that it captures all the action. For 3-D effects to really have an impact, the camera needs must be right in the middle of the action. Now if you imagine your typical football or basketball broadcast, really the only times the camera angle is that close up is on replays. So it would seem most of the broadcast wouldn’t be vastly improved from being in 3-D.

Not to mention that it looks like a 3-D compatible television and possibly a converter box would have to be purchased. And you know the cable folks will want to charge more for those channels, similar to when high-definition first launched. I also keep envisioning how absurd it would look for a bunch of guys sitting around arguing about a referee’s call while staring through 3-D glasses at one another. This isn’t an issue when you’re completely absorbed in the viewing experience like in a movie theater, but sports are a very social viewing experience. Although it would be funny to see your friend reach for the dip bowl after drinking a six pack and miss it by a foot because they’re wearing the glasses and have lost all depth perception.

But even with the drawbacks that are apparent now, 3-D television will inevitably evolve and improve. Technology will advance and the networks will learn how to produce the broadcasts in order to maximize the effects. Views from angles like the “in the huddle” camera on football games or the “digger cam” on NASCAR coverage will be utilized more and create some great action, even if it’s only for a few moments at a time.

I guess I’ll probably have to watch this year’s World Cup in plain old 2-D (sigh). But by the next time the World Cup rolls around in 2014, it might be a whole different ballgame.

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One Comment on ““Avatar,” ESPN and 3-D Television”

  1. ehberton Says:

    G and I went and saw Avatar Friday, and I was so excited thinkin’ I had come up with this new idea of watching sports in IMAX 3D. Guess I’m a little late 🙂 Nice article!

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