Games between Arsenal and Manchester United usually don’t need any extra spice, but this one had plenty: The promise of live football as we’d never experienced it before.
This time, it wasn’t the prospect of yet more sublime genius from Wayne Rooney’s right boot, or the latest reality-defying piece of skill from Cesc Fabregas that brought us to a packed pub in North London, but the first sporting event in Europe to ever be broadcast live in 3D, in public.
Expectant members of the media and fans of both clubs descended upon Islington to the long and thin upstairs lounge of the bar, where one 47-inch TV was the sole focus of attention. Hopes were high that this broadcast would do for TV what Avatar had done for cinema. We expected to leave absolutely stunned by the experience and safe in the knowledge that 3D was the future; it would become as prominent a feature in our living room as our favourite easy chairs.
When a 3G animation of United striker Rooney crashing through a glass barrier appeared prior to kick off, the entire room whooped like Steve Jobs had just flopped out his danglies at an Apple press launch. We were ready for this experience to change the way we watch the game forever.
Sadly that wasn’t really the case. Kind of like HD, it’s very pretty (and we all love Sky’s brilliant high definition football coverage), but it doesn’t change the game you’re watching, especially from our limited vantage point.
It was a strange move by Sky to pick this set-up. Those at the back were continually straining to see the screen, while the TV itself didn’t really seem big enough to showcase the magnitude of what Sky Sports had pulled off. It’s worth considering that in 2010, when 3D TVs won’t be entering most households for the foreseeable future, most people’s 3D viewing experience will come in exactly this kind of establishment. Of the many punters we spoke to in the bar the consensus seemed to be that this would have been a much better experience if they were sitting on their own sofa.
In terms of what the future might hold, the Sky Sports 3D promo video, which aired at half time, packed with specially selected footage is a magnificently immersive experience with boxing, rubgy, golf and football coverage bursting out from the screen, but the live coverage of yesterday’s game struggled to match that for the vast majority of the 90 minutes.
The wide shots of running play, which is the way football has been broadcast since time immemorial, didn’t do enough for the 3D viewer. It simply appeared like regular 2D football, with a slightly improved depth of field and and a better perception of where players are on the pitch, but it wasn’t enough for us. Sky are going to need to find a way to get closer to the action in order to really make this a new experience – to change the way that football games are shot aside from the 16 3D cameras placed around the ground in seemingly all the same places.
The highlights for us were the slow-motion replays of goals and chances, especially those shot from behind the goal. As Andrei Arshavin curled a shot just wide of the post, the ball seemed to leap through the screen as it drifted just wide of the upright, which also clearly stood out from the action. This was very impressive indeed and was the only piece of footage from the first half that matched the 3D promo video that was to follow during the break. Sky will need to replicate this more often in future.
Other close-ups of players during breaks in play saw them immersed in the field of play, rather than jumping from it, which was actually a more realistic experience. They were more indented than embossed. Perhaps the biggest bonus of the afternoon however was the 3D-specific commentary team, which meant that we didn’t have to see or hear Andy Gray. The downside of that is that Alan Smith took his place.
The elephant in the room is of course the 3D glasses. It was a surreal feeling watching football in a pub packed with people wearing gawky specs. There’s no getting away from the fact that while the third dimension offers a greater sense of realism than ever before, wearing those specs plays an equal part in removing you from the action. It wasn’t ideal, especially from our restricted vantage point.
In the grander scheme of things, Sky should be afforded a rapturous standing ovation for their achievement here. No other company on these shores has continually crashed through barriers in the way Sky has. The sheer amount of time, investment and thought that has gone into making this a reality is a massive credit to the organisation, which sometimes is more maligned for apparently destroying the fabric of the sport as we knew it, rather than its pivotal role in making English football the worldwide juggernaut it currently is. Who’d have thought when they started broadcasting the Premier League in 1992, that in 2010 we’d be watching our favourite teams stride out in 3DHD?
On this ocassion, this experience didn’t leave the defenders trailing in its wake, but for a first time run-out this was a terrific glimpse into the way we could all be viewing the game in the coming years. Once again, Sky wants to change the way we view football forever, but it still has a long way to go on this particular road before we’re completely sold on 3D football.
Link: Sky 3D