In 3-D, Masters does have extra dimension

[From the New York Times]

TV Sports

In 3-D, Masters Does Have Extra Dimension

Published: March 31, 2010

If the test footage shot recently at the Augusta National Golf Club is an authentic gauge, the Masters in 3-D will look terrific. Only a few thousand early adopters with 3-D television sets will be able to see the tournament in this manner, but they will be fortunate: one look at Augusta in 3-D will make high-definition seem obsolete.

Augusta provides an ideal laboratory to show golf in the third dimension. The course is gorgeous. It undulates. Its elevations change.

Close up, the dogwoods, pines and azaleas appear to leave the screen.

Even the tinkling piano airs on the Masters telecast will probably sound better with 3-D.

High-definition has given viewers a broader, clearer vista, and all sports have benefited from it. But 3-D provides enhanced detail and the contrasts lacking in two-dimensional images. It feels like animation.

“It speaks for itself,” Mark Hess, a senior vice president of Comcast, said Wednesday at a demonstration of the 3-D Augusta footage at the SNY studio in Manhattan. Comcast, a part owner of SNY, is distributing the 3-D feed that Augusta is producing to its customers with 3-D sets and 3-D-capable computers, and to those at Time Warner, Cox and Cablevision.

A Time Warner spokesman said the company would make the 3-D Masters available to its customers as a recorded video-on-demand offering but was planning a live public viewing, perhaps at a Best Buy, during the first or second round.

The 3-D Masters will be carried live from 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern for the first two rounds and from 5 to 7 p.m. for the third and final rounds. Much of it will be shot from cameras stationed on the back nine.

Golf may be perfect for 3-D. It is a slow sport, one player in action at a time. Cameras need not pan quickly and can be closer than they are in, say, football or baseball. And if arranged intelligently, the cameras at Augusta will not have patrons standing up in front of them and will not have to look at the course through glass, as happened at the 3-D broadcast by the MSG Network of a recent Islanders-Rangers game. The sheet of ice at Madison Square Garden could not be improved in 3-D. Flat is flat. But the contours at Augusta will get a new visual life.

The best of the Masters 3-D demonstration footage included putts moving toward a camera; a chip shot flying out of a bunker with the individual grains of sand moving into a new dimension in front of the golfer; yellow flags fluttering at the hole in the foreground while water courses through a creek in the background; and the slow panning of the most topographically interesting holes to show the changing elevations.

The closer the cameras get to the action, the better the picture. It may be too much to expect the 3-D cameras to get close enough for a driver to look as if it is coming through the screen.

But there were flaws. When the sun glinted off water, the picture blurred. When trees or bushes came into view too quickly, it was visually jarring. When a camera panned the grass too rapidly, the effect was dizzying.

“We’re figuring out what works and what doesn’t,” said Mark Francisco, a Comcast Fellow working on 3-D.

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