Got your attention, yes? Of course, the 2012 Super Bowl will not be broadcast only in 3D. But it's fun to think about, because this is exactly the issue broadcasters are dealing with when examining the economics of producing 3D television.
First, let's address the elephant in the room: Is 3D a fad? I think it's easy to argue that, when it comes to the cinema business, 3D is now firmly entrenched. Television is another matter. If you were judging by the comments on every online article that mentions 3D TV, you'd say that it's an overt failure. But 3D TV's have actually sold well, and consumer electronics manufacturers are wising up to their initial mistakes -- expensive active glasse, trying to make 3D the steak and not the sizzle in a TV purchase -- and correcting them. And the fact that the NAB Show opened with a standing-room only keynote on 3D this year says something. Can't imagine the NAB organizing a keynote around something that is the media equivalent of a pet rock: they take their job seriously.
The remaining hurdle is content. And content relies on the economics of production and delivery. Which brings us back to that Super Bowl.
Currently, 3D broadcast production is incremental, and often totally separate, from 2D production. Extra camera positions, extra crew, an additional OB van or trailer when it's a live show. It's usually directed separately when it's live, as well. Combine that with the currently tiny broadcast audience, which means limited advertising and carriage revenue, and the economic pressure becomes obvious: How do you explore the medium without breaking the bank?
The first answer is always "make it cheaper by cutting corners." Unfortunately, when it comes to 3D, corner-cutting diminishes quality pretty quickly, as you're dealing with stereo image pairs that must be perfectly matched to be viewable, as well as the vagaries of 3D framing and shot selection. The right answer is "combine the productions." There are several ways to approach this, both mechanically and electronically.
PACE HD -- now Cameron-Pace Group -- has just come off testing its Shadow Cam solution at the 2011 Masters, where both a 2D and 3D camera are mounted in the same position, and the 2D production runs both. Currently, this solution still requires a separate truck and switching infrastructure, and the 3D cameras are still placed in fewer positions. Still, it is movement in the right direction, particularly for broadcasts, like golf, where camera positions are very confined.
The holy grail. however, is a production where every camera position holds a 3D system, and the 2D feed is extracted from that setup. After all, 2D is inherently a subset of 3D. 3ality Digital is taking an electronic approach to this, debuting software controls at NAB that enable automatic convergence and interaxial, eliminating the need for separate 3D operators at each camera. The software currently works only with 3ality Digital systems and requires separate processing boxes, but may pay off in terms of lowered personnel costs across multiple productions, allowing 3D systems to occupy more camera positions.
Panasonic is taking the "smaller and lighter" approach by packaging its integrated AG-3DA1 camera with the AV-HS450 multi-format live switcher, touted as an end-to-end mobile production solution. While the side-by-side configuration of the 3D camera limits its uses, this is a step towards a "plug and play" approach that would lower costs across the board.
For those at NAB, you can catch more wisdom on exactly this subject at 10:30 AM PST today, when the Sports Video Group is hosting a SuperSession panel called "Perspectives on 3D Sports: Getting Real," featuring producers from pioneering 3D sports broadcasts, including CBS' Ken Aagard and ESPN's Phil Orlins, fresh from last weekend's Masters broadcast.
In the meantime, you can find your designer 3D glasses for the 2012 Super Bowl here. We can dream, can't we?