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The Masters Takes 3D Leap

The push to make stereoscopic 3D a mainstream reality took
another big step Monday, as Augusta National Golf Club announced that the 2010
Masters tournament will be produced in 3D HD and distributed for free by cable
giant Comcast.

The 3D production of The Masters, which is being sponsored
by Sony Electronics, is the second marquee sporting event to adopt the format
in as many weeks, following CBS' announcement last week that it would produce
the NCAA Final Four in 3D. But while the Final Four will be delivered to paying
customers in specially equipped digital cinemas, The Masters will be delivered
over cable to early adopters of 3D sets, which have just begun hitting retail
shelves this month.

"Innovation has always been part of Masters tradition," said
Augusta National Golf Club and Masters Tournament Chairman Billy Payne in a
statement. "Utilizing this technology marks another important milestone in
allowing our at-home patrons to better experience the beauty of our course and
excitement of our Tournament. We consider ourselves fortunate to be a leader in
providing this technology, thanks in large part to our valuable partners who
share in our commitment to deliver a meaningful and memorable viewing

The 3D production will provide two hours of live 3D coverage
daily from Augusta National in Augusta,
Ga. beginning with the Par 3
Contest on April 7 and continuing throughout the four Tournament rounds,
Thursday, April 8 - Sunday, April 11. The coverage, which will use multiple 3D
cameras, will focus primarily on the back nine holes of the Augusta National

The 3D coverage will be delivered separately from
conventional 2D broadcasts from Masters rightsholders CBS and ESPN, and may
include branding from Sony and IBM, the Masters' longtime technology partner.

and IBM will also work together to provide the same 3D feed over the Web via, which can be viewed by 3D-capable PCs with special 3D
monitors and companion glasses. 

The 3D coverage from the scenic Augusta National course has
the potential to be dramatic, based on test 3D footage that ESPN shot last
month at the course with amateur golfers. The 3D footage, which this reporter
viewed in NEP's SS 3D production truck ,
showed the contours of Augusta's
undulating greens in a way that 2D HD can't capture. Small ripples in water
hazards surrounding several holes were clearly visible, and sand appeared to
fly off the screen after bunker shots.

"You're looking
at it from the player's perspective," said Comcast spokeswoman Jenni Moyer, who
has viewed test footage from Augusta
in Comcast's labs.

The 3D Masters
coverage is the first live stereoscopic 3D broadcast to be carried by a U.S. cable
operator. It will be delivered across Comcast's national footprint and will
also be available through video-on-demand after the tournament. Comcast has no
deals to carry any other 3D content in the near future, said Moyer, though the
operator has had preliminary discussions with ESPN about carrying its 3D
channel when it launches in June. DirecTV is the only U.S. pay-TV
operator which has committed to deliver a full-time 3D service, with its
planned launch of three 3D channels by June.

The 3D Masters coverage will be produced by ESPN using the NEP SS 3D truck. Comcast will ingest the feed at Comcast Media Center in Denver and then transmit it to customers using the 1080i, "side-by- side" frame-compatible 3D HD format. The 3D broadcasts can be received by Comcast's latest HD set-tops and transmitted over HDMI connections to new 3D TV sets without requiring any software update to the set-tops. Comcast does plan to make a firmware upgrade to its HD set-tops later this year to make sure that they can support the program guide and other functions in 3D.

In addition to early adopters' homes, the 3D Masters broadcasts will be viewable in various hospitality tents at Augusta National. Comcast is also considering organizing some public viewing venues for the 3D coverage, with possibilities including retail stores and its Philadelphia headquarters. But those plans haven't been finalized.

Comcast has been
offering anaglyph 3D movies, including "Hannah Montana" and "Final Destination"
through its video-on-demand platform since 2008 that can be viewed with
red-and-blue glasses, noted Moyer. It has seen some strong demand even with the
older anaglyph technology. For example, 65% of the on-demand orders for "My
Bloody Valentine" were for the 3D version.

Following the
Masters, Comcast will look to make more stereoscopic 3D content available, says
Moyer, including movies and sporting events.

"This is the
beginning of the future," she said.