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BCS Championship Game in 3D: A Review

Jan 9, 2009 – 12:30 PM
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Tom Mantzouranis

Tom Mantzouranis %BloggerTitle%

If you're a real football fan, the best place to watch a game is from the sidelines. I can not recommend this highly enough. It doesn't even have to be on the NFL (good luck with that, anyway) or college level; I've had the pleasure of watching more than a few games on the sidelines under the lesser brightness of the Friday night lights, and you see and hear things that give you a better insight and appreciation of the action. It's an incredible perspective.

But it does have its drawbacks compared to the normal experience. For one, depending on your locale, it's probably cold. You've got to stand the entire game. There's always the chance that the physicality gets a little close to you, such as the time a tight end got pushed out of bounds, but in to me, which, despite my valiant (yet inevitably hilarious) attempt at a stiff arm, sent me flying backwards. And there are no wings, potato skins, mozzarella sticks, or beverages. Oh, and no bathrooms.

But as I found out last night at a movie theater in Brooklyn, football in 3D is close to merging the best of both these worlds. But it's not quite there yet.

The Pavilion in Park Slope, Brooklyn last night had the buzz of an event. That's because a venue typically reserved for quiet and courtesy was handed over to college football fanaticism, one of over 80 theaters in the country broadcasting the BCS Championship Game using Cinedigm's 3D technology. This new wave is expected to transform sports fandom in a major way, beginning in 2011, when the NFL will be able to re-sculpt its broadcasting agreements to implement more of the potentially popular -- and lucrative -- technology.

Judging by last night's test run, it's got a shot.

One of my reservations leading into the game was the atmosphere in the theater, a setup that doesn't exactly lend itself to active participation in the experience. But the crowd of about 100 was an even mix of Gator fans, Sooner fans, and curious bystanders, and the seating arrangement didn't keep anybody from cheering, standing for key plays, talking trash, or -- judging by the group of young men in blue and orange in front of me -- heavily pre-gaming with liquor. Some even stood for the national anthem.

We got our first taste of how effective the technology was before we saw a shot of the field, as pregame footage of Tim Tebow walking into the stadium was so lifelike I thought the big guy was coming to convert me personally. On field, a long line of military men was broadcast in remarkable depth, and Albert Gator's nose seemed almost to meet mine.

The broadcast was different from the one the nation at large watched, I'm guessing due to limitations in technology at the moment, but the experience was a better one for it. There was no constant scoreboard hovering in the corner or lower third, which was a tad disconcerting at first but then liberating (like forgetting your cell phone for a day). Ocassional down-and-distance and time updates were given along with the time, but the intuitive fan was able to focus more on the game without so many pesky graphic distractions (though when they were given they were spectacular; you could almost reach out and grab the numbers). The most enjoyable aspect was the lack of commercials -- there were a few cutaways to scenic Miami in 3D as well as spots custom created for the broadcast, but for the most part while the nation was on commercial break, the 3D viewers were watching field footage. Also, we were treated to Kenny Albert and Tim Ryan, which was probably a good thing.

That being said, the live action coverage needs some ironing out -- the cameras had trouble keeping up with the speed of the game, and the broadcast featured a lot of low-angled shots, meaning that while it felt like you were really on the field, you got the bad end of that too by missing a good view of plays on the near sideline, meaning plays like this early decleating had to be appreciated on replay. Also, there was an occasional issue with the feed that made everyone in the theater feel like we were having a brief, collective aneurysm, which is never a good thing to instill in paying customers (unless you're a raver).

But that replay. Wow. I'll forgive every minor transgression about last night's broadcast for those replays. Set from the point of view of the offensive and defensive backfields, the replays gave you a true sense of how plays develop. With the way the bodies were stacked and layered, you could see blocking assignments clear, zone defenses form, and routes develop. We've all heard the broadcasting cliche about a running back "getting to the second level." Well, with this technology, that second level is real, and you're on it.

Though I wouldn't necessarily make it a weekly habit, football in 3D has immense potential for fans looking for a new option with which to watch games communally, as well as for the NFL and whomever else to capitalize on a new source of broadcasting revenue. There are still improvements to be made in both technology and atmosphere (if a bar is ever able to broadcast like this, look out), but there's something special here. Judging by the way my fellow theater-goers oooooh'd and aaaaah'd throughout the night, I'd say it was the one thing everyone could agree on, allegiances aside.

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