Cox Communications will air extensive 3D coverage of golf's The
Masters Tournament, starting Wednesday (April 7), but it's taking a pragmatic
approach to 3D services and will be monitoring sales of new 3D sets before
settling on a regular lineup in the format.
"The Masters is our first foray into the new [higher-quality
3D frame-compatible formats] and we want to be on the leading edge of this
technology by providing our customers with the best video experience
available," said Mark Ader, director of product development at the
The MSO plans to offer additional
3D coverage in the future, and The Masters will air on a dedicated 3D channel
that could lay the foundation for regular services in the future. But "we
haven't made any announcements or decision on what we are going to do going forward
in terms of offering 3D," Ader stressed.
"We plan to have a competitive offering but we also have to
balance how many people are buying these 3DTVs," he said. "How much 3D we offer
will be a market driven thing. We have to balance how many of our customers
have the appropriate TV and any costs that we have to pay for content."
The decision by Cox and other cable providers to deliver the marquee golf event from Augusta,
Ga., in 3D is an important milestone in the
cable industry's 3D efforts and in its competitive position.
In the past, cable operators such as Cox and Comcast have
offered anaglyph 3D content that works on any TV, but with The Masters,
operators for the first time will offer content in the higher quality "frame
compatible" format. While this format offers far better 3D images and effects,
it can be delivered over an existing HD channel to HD set-top boxes and then
viewed on a variety of new 3D sets and glasses that use different systems.
Coverage of The Masters in 3D will be carried by Comcast,
Time Warner Cable, Cox and Cablevision in the U.S.
and Shaw Communications in Canada.
It will include two hours of live coverage each day, plus daily highlights in
3D that will be available on-demand the next day.
ESPN will produce the feed using NEP's
3D truck. The Comcast Media
Center in Denver
will distribute the signal in the 1080i, side-by-side frame-compatible 3D
Unlike the early days of digital TV or HDTV
-- when bandwidth-constrained cable operators struggled to keep pace with
satellite -- the MSOs are also using the event to tout the fact that their
existing networks can handle 3D content both for linear content and VOD.
Cox will hold viewing parties at around 30 of its retail locations around the
Cable operators will offer the 3D coverage of The Masters for
free, while DirecTV has said it would make ESPN 3D available
for free to everyone who is already paying for ESPN's high-def feed.
But Ader stressed that models for pricing 3D services have
yet to be determined. "It will depend on the content provider and how they want
to package it and price it," he said.
How quickly the technology takes off also remains open to
question. The Consumer Electronics Association is expecting to ship about 1
million 3D sets this year, which would put 3D sets in a only a tiny portion of the
country's 100 million plus multichannel homes.
While 3D content has proved enormously popular in theaters,
it also remains to be seen what kind of content will work best in 3D and how
readily consumers will accept the use of glasses.
Manufacturers typically supply only one pair of glasses per
set and, for the moment, glasses that work with one 3D set won't work with
others. Early adopters who hope to invite family and friends to view The
Masters in 3D will have to buy additional glasses, which can cost upwards to
$150 for the "active shutter" type.
Consumers with one of the new 3D sets will also need to have
an HD set-top box connected to the set with an HDMI cable.
Those customers will also need to tune into a specific
channel to see 3D coverage of The Masters and to change the setting of their 3DTV
to the 3D format or mode.
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