Watching the NCAA Basketball Championship in 3D Makes Me Yearn for the Day Every Game is in 3D

INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05: Matt Howard #54 of the Butler Bulldogs and Brian Zoubek #55 of the Duke Blue Devils go after the opening tip-off to start the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

When HD came out I really didn't think it could be that much better than my standard definition digital TV signal. After all, as many of you know, I'm a pessimist. So when I drove an hour, one-way, and paid $20 to see Monday night's NCAA basketball championship game in 3D I really wasn't expecting to be blown away.

Well, I was wrong. Curiosity has killed the cat. HD has nothing on 3D.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm still a pessimist. The 3D version of Butler-Duke didn't completely blow me out of the water or ruin any future sports viewing. But it did make me very excited for the day there's enough 3D programming to justify spending thousands on a 3D TV.

The quick verdict on 3D sports is that it really is that much better than HD, but not yet worth the cost.

Not Quite Hollywood

Prior to Monday's game, I'd seen two movies in 3D: Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans. Both were impressive because they had special effects designed to take advantage of the 3D technology. Sports aren't about to make any rules changes to take advantage of 3D, but there's no reason to think they won't eventually.

Center lines in hockey are often dashed because in the days of black and white TV it helped viewers distinguish them from the two blue lines on the ice. New Era starting making the logos on MLB caps stick out so they would show up better on standard def TV feeds.

But for now, sports aren't up to par with Hollywood because you really aren't getting actual depth, you're getting the illusion of depth. To me, Monday's game seemed like the shoe-box-scenes you would make in second grade. If you put a 2D paper tiger behind a 2D paper tree, it doesn't give either of them depth, but the spacial relationship has been established so the scene as a whole has depth.

And that's what Monday's game was, especially the crowd shots. CBS really enjoyed showing free throws from behind Butler's student section and it was far and away the most impressive shot they showed. It felt like you were there in a cavernous football stadium with a dozen rows of 2D paper cut outs of Butler coeds between you and a 2D paper cut out of Gordon Heyward shooting free throws. Trust me, it was much better than I'm describing it.

This effect happened mainly on wide-angle shots. When CBS showed close-ups, the Flat Stanley quality of the players and coaches disappeared and you were given the full 3D effect. It seemed like the court-side cameras were higher quality cameras than the ones used for normal game viewing.

Get it to Veasley! He's Open!

The spacial awareness is what made following the game much easier. Following players without the ball is much easier in 3D and it's also more more obvious when they're open. Watching two teams who run the same motion half-court offense should have been incredibly boring, but because it was in 3D it was easier to tell what they were trying to accomplish.

CBS stayed wider with its 3D cameras than it does with it's regular cameras. Whether it's because it wanted to take advantage of the technology or because its cameras simply aren't able to zoom in as much it made watching the game a lot better. You could see plays develop (what a concept), which would have made it the best sports viewing experience I've had even if it wasn't in 3D.

There were some problems following the game, though. When you were given a wide-angle shot and the players were in transition from one end of the floor to another they and the ball would tend to disappear. I think it's because the frame rate wasn't fast enough to let the human eye catch up to them or what, but it took a while to get used to. It makes me wonder if hockey or baseball would be improved by 3D or not. If it was hard for the frame rate to follow a basketball, imagine how difficult it will be to follow a baseball or puck.

Theater Experience

One of the biggest questions I had going in was what kind of atmosphere was it going to be at the movie theater. Sure, we were watching a sporting event, but it was still going to be in a dark movie theater.

Even though it was a game between two teams most people in my area didn't care about, it was still a pretty lively atmosphere. The cinema sold beer and chicken wings in the theater the game was being shown and since I seriously doubt the place had a liquor license I won't mention the name or location of the place. It helped add to the pub-like atmosphere for the game.

People still cheered, even if there were only about 20 people in it, half of them theater employees. It was just like if I had watched the game at a bar down the street.

The Broadcast

Watching the game in 3D has cemented in my mind that we don't need sideline reporters. Why? Because the 3D broadcast didn't have them and it didn't even register in my mind until well after I got home. I never noticed that Tracy Wolfson or whoever was doing the sideline reporting on the regular feed wasn't there to give me updates on what was going on during team huddles.

That was the positive. The downside was that since there weren't nearly as many 3D cameras there we got to see a lot of the same shots over and over. While the view from behind Butler's student section was really cool, it got old after CBS went to it for the 30th time.

The Future's Bright. Will We Wear Shades?

I left the game ready for 3D sports to become commonplace. I want to watch every game in 3D, but right now I'm not willing to pay for it. The theater's price of $20 seemed a little much to me for a basketball game, though I'll gladly pay the same amount to watch next year's BCS title game assuming Virginia Tech isn't participating.

Right now the price of 3D TVs aren't justified by the amount of programming available. By the natural law of technology the price will start to drop and the amount of programming will rise until it inevitably meets the point in which I'll be willing to run out a buy a TV and a pair of glasses. Everyone's point is different.

There will be some who will never see the reason to spend that much money on a TV, some who will never feel there's enough programming available and some who just won't be able to tolerate the experience. girlfriend4heisman needed to rest her eyes a lot during the game and I needed to do so down the stretch because mine were starting to strain. 

Even if we never have 3D enter our own home, it will eventually enter our sports bars. Will we start taking our 3D glasses to the bar when we go to watch games? If we're anything like the English, we certainly will. And will 3D in our homes eventually kill theater showings? I'm not sure the home viewing experience can live up to what I saw Monday. The scale was too great and I don't know how good the 3D effect will look in something other than darkness.

The potential of sports in 3D has me excited for the future. In order for it to last, the technology has to improve and become cheaper. Since ESPN is already on board and signed up with DirecTV to broadcast in 3D, I think we're going to get to the point where every game is available in 3D.

That'll be a good day. 

The Positives

  • Shots of the crowd look incredibly cool.
  • Get a feel for what it's like to be there.
  • Easier to follow players without the ball.

The Negatives

  • Frame rate not catching up with the ball or players' legs in transition.
  • I'm easily distracted by shiny objects.
  • Eye fatigue.

Big Questions

  • When will 3D TVs be worth it?
  • Will games need to be viewed in the dark at home?
  • Will we all be sitting at sports bars wearing goofy glasses?

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