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Fore!-D TV

Comcast was billing it as the first ever live International sports 3D broadcast, distinguishing it from, say the NCAA championship, which was also in 3D, but in more limited release, said Comcast; same for the BCS championship football game.

Comcast had plenty of qualifiers, but among the firsts it was claiming for the 4 p.m. kick-off of coverage was: “the first live, national, next-gen, 3D broadcast of a major sporting event on TV and online.” That should have enough qualifiers to pass muster, but you never know.

It was also the “first, live simulcast of a next-gen 3D [seems to me that “next-gen” could insulate them from challenge] event online.

I’ll stay out of the argument over firsts, but it was certainly the first round of the Masters, and the demonstration of 3D coverage at the Newseum in Washington Thursday afternoon (finger food to comply with ethics rules) was an eye-opener, at least for these layman’s eyes.

Two types of 3D were in attendance, three if you count on a computer monitor. But basically it was two technologies, one screen–Panasonic, Samsung, the computer monitor–requiring “active” glasses, which cost about $150 and do the 3D heavy lifting via alternating shutters that alternately darken each eye in synchronization with the refresh rate of the screen (or something like that).

Then there are the monitors that use passive glasses–LG, JVC–which are like the glasses you drop in the boxes–unless like me you forget and collect them between the seats of the minivan–on your way out of “Avatar” or “How To Train Your Dragon.”

I actually preferred the picture with the passive glasses, which produced for me a more seamless depth to the 3D experience, without the flutter on the periphery I experienced with the active glasses, or the slight ghosting of some images.

There was also a basic difference in the picture, with the passive system appearing to be looking through a glass window pane on a 3D world beyond, and the active picture more like looking through an empty frame at a 3D world with some ghosts at the edges. Maybe it was just me, but the active system seemed to produce more like a series of planes (meaning, for me,  the sense of a flat foreground, middle ground, and background, like a theatrical set or those Viewmaster Reels of Boomer bygone days.

But I was watching some of the “first 100 serial number” sets, as a top Comcast exec pointed out. 3D TV sets have only been on the market for all of about a month now and start in the $3,000 range, less for some sets with the active glasses sold separately.

Either way, I think I would certainly pay the $13 it now costs for a 3D flick for the privilege of watching the final round of a golf tournament with my buddies (OK, buddy) at the theater, or for the occasional VOD offering that Comcast sees a 3D future in.

Golf is a perfect venue for 3D, with long, slow pans (quick cuts don’t do as well in 3D as the eye works to catch up with the image, or at least that is what seems to be happening). And scoreboard graphics took a minute to adjust to when they appeared on the screen. But watching an approach shot bounce onto the green from a low angle shot, the leaves tumbled toward me across the green by the breeze, was, and this is the technical term, “a really cool experience.”

In addition to Comcast executives (NBCU was also represented), lobbyists, journalists, and others, the demonstration/reception played host to Greg Norman, who is most associated with both brilliant and frustrating rounds at Augusta. He was there, said Comcast, as both a businessman and a golfing great. Which meant he was not at Augusta (he has had shoulder surgery and said he won’t be back before August).

Norman thanked Comcast for being in the forefront of a technology that will also change the way golf commentators approach the game. He said that those commentators will now have to describe the sidehill and hanging lies players face (but have been masked by the flattening effect of TV), and viewers will be able to see just how tough a course Augusta is.