Saturday afternoon was pretty dreary across most of the country, but that didn’t stop several thousand football fans, including myself, donning cheapo sunglasses for a couple of hours. Yes, it was the much-anticipated launch of Sky 3D – Europe’s first dedicated 3D channel. Those craving the third dimension in their living room will have to wait until autumn. Until then, it’s all about 3D football down the pub. The broadcaster had a mixed reaction to its 3D trial game back in February, so I was intrigued to see how the developers had utilised the feedback now the channel was up and running. As a guest of Sky, I joined a hundred or so journalists to watch Man United vs Chelsea at the Porterhouse in central London – one of 1500 boozers up and down the UK that wasted no time jumping on board the 3D boat. This was the first of eight 3D games between now and the end of the season, which also includes the Football League play-off finals.
More after the break
With lunch out the way, the 3D specs were handed out as the 47in LG LD950 was switched on. Cue half-an-hour of pre-match ramblings from a two-dimensional Richard Keys. Still, Sky’s ‘swoosh’ graphics kept everyone entertained as they flew out the screen in 3D, and the wait for kick-off gave me the chance to speak to Sky’s director of product design and development, Brian Lenz. “What we’re not trying to do is be gratuitous with 3D football,” he said. “First and foremost, the priority is for viewers to have a clear view of the action – what we don’t want to do is sacrifice covering the match for 3D impact. But it’s an evolving process and we’ll learn from each game we cover.” The chief gripe from the Arsenal vs Man United 3D pilot was that the main camera angle – the wide shot of the pitch – offered little sense of depth. But as the match started, I was pleased to see this was no longer an issue. The 3D cameras at Man United’s Old Trafford ground were far lower than at the Arsenal game, meaning the standard camera shot now had a more pronounced 3D effect. Yes, it was still subtle, but unlike before at least you could be certain you were watching in 3D. And the lower viewing angle didn’t hinder the action in any way. As for every other viewpoint, it was clear the 3D cameramen had been honing their skills. Be it Fergie chewing gum in his rally car chair, Frank Lampard stepping up for a corner or the home fans nervously biting their nails, the low-angle shots never failed to impress with a strong depth of field. Best of all, the shot from the back row of the Chelsea fans when Drogba celebrated his winner had me feeling I was in among them at the ground. Said Lenz after the game: “The cameramen were excellent today. They are still getting used to the 3D equipment, but every one of them held their framing, had good panning and did the best job from their position.” It was hard to disagree. The balance between getting a decent view of the game and embracing the ‘wow factor’ of 3D was spot on. And Sky’s attention to detail – the 3D channel even has dedicated commentators (90 minutes without Andy Gray is no bad thing) – shows how seriously the channel’s developers are taking it.
My only slight reservation was viewing position. As I discovered from moving around the pub in the second half, the best view (perhaps unsurprisingly) is straight on and near (but not too near) to the front – ideally about three to five metres from the screen. Once I wrestled my way into this ‘sweet spot’, I wasn’t moving, and it came as no surprise that those around me were more animated about the 3D experience than those I’d stood with before. Still, such a viewing distance is ideal for the front room, so there’s plenty to look forward to with the full consumer launch later this year. In the meantime, if you’re not at the game, sporting a daft pair of Blues Brothers-type specs in a darkened pub is absolutely the next best thing.
Check out the Sky 3D pub finder to find your nearest pub showing 3D football.
Did you watch the match in 3D? If you did, then let us know what you thought in the comments section below.