Reviews mixed for 3-D BCS final

January 9, 2009 

RIVERBANK -- The producers of the first 3-D broadcast of a live football game available to the general public were confronted with a basic dilemma.

The low-angle shot, which made viewers feels as if they were watching the game from the first row of the stands, was the best way to show-off the impressive 3-D technology. But those shots also make it difficult to follow the action.

The high angle shot, which is the staple of every football telecast, is the best way to follow the game, but it reduces the 3-D effect to little more than a very good high-definition image.

What's a producer to do? In the case of Thursday's Oklahoma-Florida BCS National Championship Game, the 3-D production crew punted.

Tweaking constantly with the coverage angles, the production crew finally relented starting late in the second quarter to show the live action from a high angle.

But after each play, they insisted on two or even three replays from field level. They were impressive moving pictures for certain, but on at least 10 occasions, the replays were still being shown as the next play was being run. Oklahoma's final touchdown was shown only as a replay.

"It's been OK so far, but we've been missing some of the plays," said Modesto's Chris Nava, a Florida graduate. "We missed a kick and several other plays when they've been going to replays. Other than that, it's been pretty good."

About 260 people paid $16 apiece to watch the game in the 333-seat Auditorium 12 at Riverbank's Galaxy Theater. Some wore team colors of either Oklahoma or, like Nava, Florida. But the majority was there out of curiosity -- football fans wanting to see what is being touted as the future of sports viewing.

And the 3-D product, no doubt, will be promoted as a huge part of that future. But when compared to the production values of the game as currently carried for free on national networks, the screening had the production bells, but was missing a few whistles.

There was no on-screen game or play clock or scoreboard. Only occasionally was the down and distance indicated on the screen, and there was no yellow first-down line that has become the latest must-see visual perk.

At his home in Ripon, Dave Rigney has a monster 120-inch HD projection system in his garage, so he obviously watches a lot of televised football. It would take quite a step in technology for Rigney to be impressed by the 3-D product.

"The replays from the low angle end zone views are great in 3-D," Rigney said. "I miss the game clock and the yellow first-down line, and the play clock, and without them I feel a little lost."

But when the production crew got it right, the results were impressive. The 3-D image allows the eye to accurately judge not only the width of the action, but the depth. The result shows off the speed of the game like no televised game ever has been able to do.

The game also was beamed to Riverbank Galaxy and 81 other theaters across the country in full 5.1 surround sound. The yells of individual fans in the stands at the game caused more than one theater viewer to turn around and glance toward the back rows.

As a first effort at showing live football in 3-D to a national audience, the folks at Cinedigm should get high marks. Once they eliminate all the production quirks, this will be high-quality sports entertainment.

Will it be enough to replace the home HD experience?

"The reason I'm here is that Florida's in the game," Nava said. "I wouldn't go on a regular basis and pay for this. High definition is good enough and it's free."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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