The NBA in 3-D: Coming Soon to a Living Room Near You
DALLAS -- The NBA held its 11th annual Technology Summit on Friday morning to kick off All-Star weekend, and as usual, there was a who's who of league personnel and business luminaries in attendance. Players, owners, and top executives participated in a series of panel discussions moderated by the likes of Wolf Blitzer, in which a variety of technology subjects were discussed in front of the invitation-only group in the audience.
One of the more interesting subjects that came up was the fact that the availability of high-quality, 3-D broadcasting technology is something that's currently in the works, and it will undoubtedly be the next big upgrade to the home-based sports viewing experience.
The NBA has been recording events like the All-Star game and the Finals in 3-D since 2007, but until now, has only been able to showcase them in a movie theater setting. As with most new technologies, the obstacles to getting them to market are based in price, as well as the ability to get televisions capable of handling the broadcasts to market. Additionally, the glasses required to view the 3-D programming are expensive -- currently estimated to cost around $100 per pair to produce.
But none of this has stopped ESPN, the unquestioned leader in the broadcasting of sports programming, from moving forward into the land of 3-D. With 85 events scheduled for 2011, they're taking the following approach: just provide the content, and the business model will follow.
So how will this all work? In order to facilitate an open and free dialogue during the panel discussions, all comments by the participants are off the record. But between sessions, John Skipper, who is the Executive Vice President of Content for ESPN, had this to say about how his network plans to handle things.
"It's more of a technology than a platform," Skipper said. "We'll have a dedicated 3-D channel, so that's a platform, but we think of it as a new technology that will ultimately be incorporated into all of our existing video platforms.
"Our intention is to somewhere have a dedicated channel position for it. It may not be active 24/7/365, but [whatever the channel], whenever we have an event that's where you'll go."
And what about the idea of an additional charge for the new technology? At this early stage, that's not the approach that the network plans to take.
"We will not be part of another offer; our intention is for it to be part of an ESPN offer," Skipper said.
That's obviously great news for consumers, especially if they are already expected to shell out for new hardware, just as they've done more recently to be able to view content in HD. But ultimately, what everyone will be most interested in is the quality of the broadcast.
There was a demonstration of the 3-D technology at this event, where highlights from the 2009 All-Star weekend were shown on what looked like your standard HD screen of about 42 inches in size.
If watching sports in HD is the equivalent of feeling like you're viewing the proceedings through the window of a luxury suite in the arena, then seeing things in 3-D is like having a courtside seat.
They really did this just right: the 3-D isn't at all gimmicky like what we've come to expect from movies, where everything possible is done to overuse the 3-D effect by having things needlessly appear to be flying out of the screen right into your face.
Instead, the front of the screen is used as the beginning point for the action, and everything appears to go deeper into the television, with the depth of the experience being accented like never before. If they had players or the ball flying out at you it would detract from the actual game itself; the way they have seemed to decide to do things makes the technology the ultimate enhancement.
The exact availability of when 3-D broadcasting can be expected to come directly into the home isn't yet known. But with networks like ESPN already committing to it by ramping up the number of events they film with this new technology, it's likely to be here sooner than you might think.