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The 2009 BCS Championship was the first 3D sports broadcast open to consumers.

No form of entertainment will do more to feed home viewers’ appetite for 3D than sports. Sports are compelling, dynamic, and downright pulse-pounding. And fans are, well, fanatical.

But they are also fickle, which creates a challenge for 3D sports broadcasters. All the action that makes a sporting event so exciting to watch also makes it incredibly difficult to produce pristinely. With no second takes and no marks for the “actors” to hit, there’s little room for error in image capture and transmission.  Shooting and broadcasting in 3D requires systems with rock-solid reliability, easily repeatable configurations, and a high degree of automation.   After all, if you screw up the “money shot” in a sports broadcast, you don’t get a second chance, and you certainly can’t “fix it in post.”

That new third dimension also presents challenges that were solved long ago for 2D broadcasts:  Where do you place the graphics?  How do you handle quick cuts from one hot spot to another?  How do you generate instant replays in slow-mo?  The flexibility and adaptability provided by camera rigs integrated with software-based 3D image processing become key.  Using mechanical 3D rigs that require manual settings won’t get you to the goal line:  it’s like playing the game with your third-string QB.

Given all the interest in 3D sports broadcasting being generated by the upcoming Winter Olympics, World Cup soccer events and the 2010 launch of Sky’s 3D channel with its heavy emphasis on sports, this is a critical moment for the medium.

The industry needs to deliver a state-of-the-art experience to the fans of global sporting events. If it does, game over: 3D is a bona fide hit with home viewers. If it doesn’t, even the medium’s most ardent supporters will be left with a (literal) headache and the disappointment of a pivotal opportunity lost.

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