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3D TV for Sports Fans

Steve Kindig has been an electronics enthusiast for over 30 years. He has written extensively about home and car A/V gear for Crutchfield since 1985. Steve is also a volunteer DJ at community radio station WTJU, where he is a regular host of the American folk show "Atlantic Weekly," as well as the world music program "Radio Tropicale."

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3D isn't just for movies anymore.

You've probably seen a 3D movie or two in a theater, but watching sports in 3D is something different. For one thing, you can only watch sports in 3D at home. You won't find it at your local sports bar. ("Hey, who has the 3D glasses? C'mon, it's my turn!")

But even more crucial is the sheer impact of sports in 3D. While high-definition TV improved sports watching with its clarity and detail, 3D goes further — it's like surround sound in the way it draws you in and makes you feel like a part of the action. It's closer to actually sitting in the stands. That third dimension makes the players' athleticism and skill seem even more superhuman.

And while some sports benefit more from 3D than others, even the low-impact stuff like golf gets a jolt of energy.

Quick checklist for 3D sports

The gear:
A 3D-ready TV
Compatible 3D glasses
HD satellite or cable box

The games:
A cable or satellite TV subscription that includes 3D programming. Subscribers who are already using an HD cable or satellite box can probably keep using it for 3D. And if you're using an HD DVR, you can record 3D events to watch whenever you want.

Getting started
OK, it's time to get the ball rolling. Call your cable or satellite provider and find out what's available (only the biggest cable companies and DIRECTV® are currently offering 3D at all). There are two channels to ask about. First, there's ESPN 3D, a dedicated 3D sports channel that's available to over 45 million households. DIRECTV subscribers should also ask about n3D, which shows a mix of sports, nature, arts and more.

The 3D roll-out is still gaining steam, but here are a few events we've seen.

3D sports so far
First, there was The Masters®. Seen in 2D, well, there's a beautiful course and the world's top players, but ... you've seen it before. In 3D? Very compelling. Viewers got a sense of how challenging it is to read the greens on a championship course.

Next came the launch of ESPN's 3D sports channel — timed, not surprisingly, to coincide with South Africa's hosting of the World Cup. In 2D, most of the world saw a bunch of guys passing a ball around a field. In 3D, the wide-angle shots of the field weren't all that different, but when a goal was replayed from the point-of-view of the camera positioned behind the net, the ball really did seem to leap out from the screen.

Then, "Batter up!" The Major League Baseball All-Star Game broadcast used special camera placements to maximize 3D impact. For instance, wide shots had remarkable depth that provided a real-life feel for the distance an outfielder had to cover to make a running catch. Cameras positioned behind home plate gave viewers a better feel for the movement of pitches, and why even the pros have trouble hitting a nasty curve ball.

Tennis in 3D, anyone? During the final weekend of this year's U.S.Open tournament, CBS presented special telecasts of some of the most exciting men's and women's matches. Courtside camera positions captured the speed of the play — and the players — much more effectively than standard 2D broadcasts, where sizzling groundstrokes seem to float lazily back and forth across the net. These telecasts were shown on DIRECTV's n3D channel.

Those weren't the only 3D events on tap, just a few of the biggies.

3D sports events to watch for

College Football (September 2010 - January 2011)
College football will be extremely well-represented in the world of 3D sports this season. For instance, ESPN 3D has committed to broadcast 14 games — basically a game a week.

Some other highlights:
ACC Championship (December 4) 2011
BCS National Championship, (January 11, 2011)
College Basketball (November - March 2011)
Old SpiceTM Classic, (November 25-28)
Big EastTM Conference Championship, (March 8-12, 2011)
Winter X Games (January 27-30, 2011)

More than 200 of the best action sports athletes will compete in skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling at Winter X Games 15 in Aspen, Colorado. These events, with brightly-clad bodies carving through clouds of powder, should lend themselves really well to 3D coverage.

The 2012 Summer Games
There's a good chance you won't need to shell out for a plane ticket to London to feel like you're ringside, trackside, or poolside at the 2012 Summer Games. The BBC plans to broadcast the opening and closing ceremonies in 3D. Other 3D segments will include boxing and gymnastics, chosen in part for the compact space and sense of depth they offer, rather than the sweeping action of team sports.

Unconfirmed (basically, our wish list):
Pro Baseball post-season play (October 2010)

Fox's 3D team hit it out of the park for this year's Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Fox's World Series coverage is always first-rate, but we'd sure love to see the Fall Classic in 3D.

Pro Football (September 2010 - February 2011)
You'd think that pro football would be a huge deal in 3D TV, and that the BIG game would be pretty much guaranteed a 3D treatment. But even though the first pro game broadcast in 3D was back in November of '08, the league has been waiting for the technology to get better. Well, it has -- so we're hoping 2011 will be the year. Maybe by February 6?

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