The 2012 London games on TV are like no other prior Olympic broadcasts.  While you can view the events in high definition on a number of NBC broadcast, cable or satellite channels, as well as online (with subscription), for the first time DirecTV and most major cable and telco systems are also presenting the action in 3D. These telecasts began at 5am EST today with the opening ceremony and will continue every day for the duration of the games. We detail the production, explain how to see it on your 3D TV and  review the first broadcast after the break.

How It’s All Done

HD Guru visited the Olympic International Broadcast Center earlier this week to get the inside details. Shooting 3D is far more complicated to capture than high definition. While 2D requires proper focus, framing and exposure, shooting in 3D adds proper lens setting for a good 3D effect. If too mild, the 3D is not impressive, if it is too extreme, it can produce eyestrain. In addition, the cameramen must be aware of objects at the edge of the frame. If nearby objects extend to the edge of the image, it can cause eyestrain as well.

To avoid any problems, Olympic Broadcast Services wisely decided to treat the first 3D Olympics as a completely separate production. Using its own set of 40 Panasonic 3D camera rigs,  a dedicated 3D production truck and a full time stereographer, the broadcast requires extra care and time to edit and assure the 3D quality is spectacular.  The Olympic broadcast services delay the 3D feed until 4 am the next day and then it is looped it throughout the day. This morning we watched the opening ceremony in 3D. Tomorrow (Sunday July 29) at 4 am EST, the first 3D events will be broadcast. They include Gymnastics- men’s team competition and swimming finals.

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How Good is the 3D Content?

The care in preparing for the telecast is very apparent. The broadcast team first recorded the athletes practice sessions and used them to hone 3D techniques and for segment introductions. Having viewed much of the opening last night in 2D for comparison, we found the added dimension greatly enhanced our enjoyment.

We really liked the 3D footage inside and around Buckingham palace featuring Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II and Daniel Craig as James Bond. The most spectacular moment came during the Olympic flame lighting. The merging of dozens of flaming torches in 3D appeared so real we could practically feel the heat emanating from the screen!

The only annoying distraction, the NBC peacock with the five Olympic rings logo (called a bug) is located in the upper right corner of the screen and floats about two feet in front of the screen during the entire 3D broadcast.  We hope the forward placement will be reconsidered and have the “bug” moved back to the screen plane.

During the breaks, there are many 3D commercials including full length 3D trailers of upcoming movies.

How to View the Olympics in 3D

In addition to a 3D TV and compatible glasses, viewing the events requires a subscription to participating cable, telco and satellite providers. The following list covers about 80% of US homes.  The NBC 3D coverage is being shown by: Armstrong, AT&T, Blue Ridge, Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox Communications, DIRECTV, Insight, Mediacom, RCN, Suddenlink, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and  WideOpen West. The big hold-outs are Charter and Dish Network.

You also need a high definition cable box and associated subscription and a HDMI cable (note all HDMI cables labeled “hi-speed” are 3D compatible like this one.

Only certain DirecTV HD boxes and HD DVRs are 3D compatible. They include the following DirecTV HD receivers : H21, H23 and H24 or HD DVR models HR21, HR22, HR23 or HD24 are required (Note: the DirecTV models H20 and HR20 are incompatible with its 3D channels and must be replaced with one of the models above). High def cable boxes work, we used our HD TiVo with a Cable card.

Next you will need to learn which channel the NBC 3D feed is located as this can vary with each system and location. For our NY FiOS system it’s channel 1003. On DirectTV its channel 103. Check with your provider for the specific channel information.

Many 3D TVs have a 3D format auto detect system. On our Panasonic TC-L47WT50 (currently undergoing review testing), will sense the feed once tuned to the 3D channel and the 3D button is pressed on the TVs remote, however first had to set the WT50 to the “Auto Detect 2” position in the user menu.

Most 3D TVs have 3D format control to manually set the 3DTV to conform with the broadcast if it is not automatically detected. The NBC 3D channel is sent in the side-by-side (SBS) format. To set format go to the user menu. SBS is represented by is a rectangular box with a vertical line down the middle, as unformatted 3D will appear as two squeezed images adjacent to each other.

Last thing is the eyewear. TVs that require active shutter glasses (all Samsung LEDs and plasmas, all Panasonic plasmas and select Panasonic LEDs, select Toshibas, all Sonys, all Sharps, all LG plasmas and select Vizio LEDs) need only to have the glasses powered on after the image is formatted.

Passive 3D TVs (LG LEDs, select Vizios, select Toshibas and select Panasonic LEDs) use glasses that are similar to the ones given out in many movie theaters and do not require any activation. Once the TV is formatted, just sit back and enjoy.

If you don’t have a 3D TV, the Olympics gives sports fans a great opportunity to experience what the format is all about. With the stereoscopic broadcasts running every day through the closing ceremony on August 13th, many retailers will be demonstrating their 3D TVs with the Olympic content playing.


Disclosure- HD Guru paid the travel expenses for the visit the London International Olympic Broadcast Center; Panasonic TV is on loan from the vendor.


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