Last month, Arsenal v Manchester United became the world’s first football match to be broadcast live in three dimensions. In April, Sky will launch it’s 3D service for commercial customers, showing one Premier League game per week. Sometime around the Autumn, the Sky 3D channel will launch, showing a mix of programmes from across Sky’s channels. As well as the football and other sport, it will be the place to find all of the 3D movies that have recently been so successful at the cinema, and they have also been experimenting with producing Sky1’s entertainment shows such as Are You Smarter Than A Ten Year Old and the recently-axed Gladiators in 3D. Sky have designed specially built 3D cameras, with two lenses, which they have been using in their 3D productions. In sports broadcasts, the usual sound and vision mixers in the outside broadcast truck are joined by stereographers (now, that’s a job title) who constantly ensure that the each element of the picture appears to be at the correct depth when viewed in 3D.
Over the last year or so, the biggest thing to get people flocking to the cinemas has been 3D movies, from Pixar’s Up to, of course, James Cameron’s Avatar, and from this weekend, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Now it’s time for TV to get in on the act. A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to take a look at Sky’s new 3D service, which will launch in pubs and clubs next month before being available to home viewers later in the year.
The service will be available through existing Sky+ HD boxes, but if you think that means you won’t have splash out any money, the bad news is that you’ll need a completely new television set. The special “3D Ready” TVs will start to come on to the UK market later this year. Unlike the old anaglyph system where you wear glasses with coloured lenses (such as the ones used during Channel 4’s 3D Week last year), Sky’s system works with both the 3D TVs which use the same passive polarized glasses you’ll find at the cinema, and the even more cutting-edge active shutter glasses. At launch, Sky’s system won’t be working with the most hi-tech (and therefore expensive) 3D televisions of all, the autostereoscopic displays which do not require glasses at all. So, you’ll need a new television, but there is some good news, as at launch Sky won’t be charging extra for 3D on top of the usual HD subscription.
Sky’s demo starts with probably it’s most impressive part, the Sky logo floating in mid-air, surrounded by glass cubes. It really is a very convincing effect, and looks as if it’s floating in front of the TV. This is followed by a clip of the Ricky Hatton v Juan Lazcano boxing match. Unlike the logo, there’s nothing in any of the clips that appears to be in front of the screen, instead it looks as if you are looking through a window, everything is behind the screen but you get a tremendous sense of depth. The polarised glasses do not affect the brightness or colours in any way. The Hatton clip was very effective, with each row of the crowd very clearly layered one in front of the other, and the use of a brilliant shot from just behind one of the corners that gives a real sense of being ringside. This was followed by a clip of a Usain Bolt breaking the 150m record, and a performance by the English National Ballet. Neither clip worked quite as well as the boxing for me, perhaps because at that point I was not sitting directly face-on to the screen, but again there was a decent clarity and depth to the picture.
If you’ve ever been impressed by a 3D movie at the cinema, this was just as good as any of the big hits of recent months. The technology really has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years. However, I’m not sure if it is worth getting a new TV just to watch 3D broadcasts. Enjoyable as it is, it’s still essentially a gimmick rather than something that can vastly improve the viewing experience in the way that high definition does. Instead, it is likely that 3D television will arrive in our homes by stealth. Just as it’s now nearly impossible to buy a TV that isn’t HD ready, next time you decide to buy a new TV in a few years time, you might find it’s 3D ready and if you already have Sky+ HD in your home, you’ll be able to take advantage of their service, along with the 3D elements which will be appearing in Blu-ray disks and video games by that point.
It’s not a game-changer, we won’t suddenly all be watching the nightly soaps and sitcoms while wearing 3D glasses, but as something to occasionally enhance a major sporting event or big weekend movie, it’s a very nice touch indeed. It’s fantastic to see Sky continuing to innovate and push some boundaries long before the technology becomes mainstream. And, of course, it’s another small step on the long road towards the all-immersive holographic viewing experience that anyone who’s watched too many 1980s sci-fi movies is looking forward to.
You can see Sky 3D for yourself, by visiting their booth at the O2 Arena and shopping centres nationwide. More details can be found at www.sky.com/3d