(July 11, 2010) Yesterday, DirecTV (along with Cox, Verizon FiOS, Comcast, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, Blue Ridge Communications and Service Electric Broadband Cable) brought the first major league 3D baseball game to HD subscribers in the NY and Seattle areas. To paraphrase Chico Escuela (Garrett Morris) “Baseball can be very, very good for 3D.”

The telecast gave a new perspective to the game, highlighting the physical space and interaction of the fielders as well as the pitcher to the batter like no other prior broadcast. You need to see it to appreciate it. My perspective shifted from distant spectator in a 2D HDTV broadcast to an umpire’s eye view and “you are there” immersive feel.   However, the program was not without a number of distracting and annoying technical glitches.

The 3D program used “side by side” 720p, (photo above) yielding a resolution of 640 x 720 per eye. We evaluated the game on two 3D TVs, a Panasonic 50″ TC-P50VT25 plasma and a Samsung 55″ UN55C8000 LED (LCD) TV. The DirecTV broadcast was recorded on its HD22 and HD24 DVRs as well as the Cablevision signal on a TiVo Premier and Cablevision supplied HD DVR. We could not detect any visual differences between the providers.

Granted it is a major league first, some of the problems observed are avoidable and would greatly enhance a future broadcast on DirecTV 3D. They are:

Focus- Often, after a shift from one camera view to another there would be one second or so soft focus before the image would snap into sharp view. It became a major distraction and appeared to be electronic glitch.

Another focus issue: I have always admired how great the camera operators covering Major League Baseball maintain optical focus while tracking a play. The left field and home plate operators were not up to the standards set by major league camera men. A number of times the operator would hunt for the optimum focus (this occurred after the camera switch was made).

Electronic Score: Like the World Cup in 3D, the score graphic is placed in front of the screen (called negative Z-axis); while the field view perspective is behind the screen. This creates a brain/eye conflict, and can contribute to fatigue.  I plea to the network powers, please get the graphics to be at the screen plane whenever there is a distant field view.

Crosstalk: Ghost images occurred infrequently on the Panasonic, but often on the Samsung. It was most apparent during high contrast situations, i.e. the player seen in front of the black wall in center field or an overhead shot contrasting the player’s uniform against the grass.

Breaks: There were no commercials during the game, just DirecTV promos and wonderful shots of Seattle. Unfortunately, there were times when the 3D cameras were not properly setup for the distance to the subject. This was very apparent with a shot of a seagull and a close-up of fish mongers at the Pike Place market.

We recall the growing pains experienced with the first sportscasts of HD and firmly believe the learning curve can come quickly for Major League Baseball and make it a “must see 3D” viewing experience. Overall, the debut demonstrates how sports will drive 3D adoption.  We look forward Tuesday’s All Star Game in 3D on DirecTV.

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