When ESPN announced at CES that its ESPN 3D channel would go 24/7 this spring, it seemed like great news for sports fans looking for more 3D events. That’s why I found it especially disappointing to regularly check in with the network on DirecTV only to find that there was usually nothing on, with no listings for upcoming events in the program guide. I was all set to hammer ESPN for failing to follow through on its promise when I discovered that DirecTV opted not to air ESPN 24/7, instead airing only live events. As a result, the availability of ESPN 3D programming on DirecTV is more limited than what you might find on other TV service providers that air the network full time.
I did manage to catch one NBA playoff game, between the Hawks and the Bulls, on ESPN 3D. Overall, I found the experience to be a mixed bag. On one hand, the 3D did add excitement to certain elements of the games, especially contested slam-dunks. It also conveyed a better sense of the spatial relationships on the court, such as those between players and players and the basket. But I found ESPN 3D’s picture to be softer than what I saw on the other channels, perhaps because parent ABC chooses to broadcast in 720p. I also experienced a fair amount of video noise on scenes, as well as some motion smearing on fast cuts. Most annoying, perhaps because of the smaller arena venues, were the regular appearance of objects—mostly players and fans—in the foreground of the image, which distorted the 3D effect. Compared to some 3D sports broadcasts I’ve viewed, including last year’s MLB All Star Game Home Run Derby and the Master’s golf championship, I found the basketball game less compelling in 3D.
Still, it’s unfair to judge the network by the limited amount of programming I was able to view. Looking ahead to ESPN 3D’s schedule, I’m likely to check out its coverage of the X Games next month, since the jumps and aerials in BMX biking and skateboarding events should be an excellent showcase of 3D. I’ve yet to see a football game in 3D, but I have to think the larger playing field and stadium, plus the ability to shoot at a variety of camera angles, will similarly make it an excellent subject for 3D.
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