With sports fans still getting used to their high-definition television sets, the National Football League is already thinking ahead to the next potential upgrade: 3-D.
Next week, a game between the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders will be broadcast live in 3-D to theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Boston. It is a preliminary step on what is likely a long road to any regular 3-D broadcasts of football games.
The idea is a "proof of concept," says Howard Katz, NFL senior vice president of broadcasting and media operations. "We want to demonstrate this and let people get excited about it and see what the future holds."
The several hundred guests at the three participating theaters Dec. 4 will include representatives from the NFL's broadcasting partners and from consumer-electronics companies. The event will be closed to the general public. Burbank, Calif.-based 3ality Digital LLC will shoot the game with special cameras and transmit it to a satellite. Thomson SA's Technicolor Digital Cinema is providing the satellite services and digital downlink to each theater, and Real D 3D Inc. will power the display in the theaters.
In the 2004 Super Bowl, 3ality tested its ability to film football in 3-D.
This isn't the first time the NFL has participated in a 3-D experiment. In 2004, a predecessor company to 3ality filmed the Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers. When Sandy Climan, 3ality's chief executive officer, shows the footage, "people crouch down to catch the ball," he says. "It's as if the ball is coming into your arms."
Technology has advanced considerably since then, and now makes live transmission possible. Boxing in 3-D, Mr. Climan says, particularly "raises your blood pressure."
Real D, which has rolled out 3-D systems in 1,500 theaters around the world, has long advocated the transmission of live events to theaters in 3-D. "We look forward to giving fans of live events the opportunity to feel like they're in the front row," says Michael Lewis, Real D's CEO.
Some live events, including opera broadcasts and circus performances, already pop up on screens at theaters across the country.
Next week's demonstration will also include television displays, to show what might one day be available in homes. While 3-D television sets are already available in stores, mainly for the handful of DVDs available in 3-D, the industry is still working on technical standards for 3-D.
That process raises the possibility that 3-D TV sets purchased today might not be compatible with programs aired in a few years' time. Just as in theaters, home viewers must wear special 3-D glasses.