When Walt Disney Co debuts its ESPN 3-D channel for World Cup coverage, the split-second cutaways and bold graphics that ESPN has become known for will be replaced by scenic panoramics and wide-angle player shots.
"You'll see a different-looking story," Chuck Pagano, ESPN vice president of technology, said in an interview. "We aren't going as fast or with as many graphics. 3-D is a different viewing experience."
Producing the in-your-face technology has proven to be a learning experience for the crew at ESPN. When testing 3-D camera shots at an Ohio State-University of Southern California football game in September, ESPN found it couldn't track the action as well as with high-definition cameras because the ball moved too fast for the mounted 3-D cameras to capture without jarring the viewer. Also, some graphics shown in early 3-D testing proved visually overwhelming, so they were cut back.
Unlike filming in high-definition, capturing action on 3-D requires two high-definition cameras tied together on a mount. One camera shoots the image for the right eye, the other for the left. The signals from both cameras are fed from the live event for production, and then pushed to pay-TV distributors, where the signals are eventually merged together by a 3-D TV set.
Comcast Corp, DirecTV and AT&T Inc. have signed deals to carry ESPN's 3-D channel in the U.S. Only customers with 3-D capable television sets will be able to take advantage of the programming. About 2.5 million U.S. homes will have such sets by the end of this year, according to U.K.-based research firm FutureSource Consulting.
For the World Cup, soccer's governing body FIFA is producing the 3-D footage. The filmed action will be sent about 8,000 miles from South Africa to ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, via a fiber-optic line under the Atlantic Ocean, and then transmitted from Bristol to viewers' homes on the same video stream as high-definition feeds. A 3-D video stream consumes about the same bandwidth in a cable pipe as a high- definition feed.
Sony Corp., which is an official sponsor of the World Cup and partner with ESPN 3-D, will be supplying cameras to film the 3-D sports coverage. Sony has developed a specialized 3-D image processing device, the MPE-200, that will help correct any image differences between the two cameras, for example if one camera zooms out faster than the other, creating distortion.
Production costs for 3-D events are higher than the average telecast. Live 3-D broadcasts require ESPN to use a separate production truck and more cameras, Pagano said. Although he said filming in 3-D was more expensive, Pagano declined to specify how much, saying the charge was "incremental."
"We're still learning," Pagano said. "3-D started as a science experiment and it still is a science experiment. We're setting the protocols and methodologies for filming as we go along in our journey.