NAB 2010: Sony to Showcase Augusta 3D in Vegas

After striking a deal with Augusta National Golf Club to sponsor the 3Dproduction of the 2010 Masters Tournament from Apr. 7-11, Sony Electronics
plans to make the 3D footage a highlight of its exhibition at the 2010 NAB Show
in Las Vegas.

Sony, which is providing cameras and switchers for the production, will show
recorded Masters footage on 3D displays in its booth on the show floor, which
opens Apr. 12. It is also investigating whether it can display some live action
from Augusta, Ga. during its pre-show press conference on Sunday afternoon,
Apr. 11, which will start at the same time the leaders will likely be in the
thick of Augusta's legendary back-nine holes.

"The timing is intriguing," noted Alec Shapiro, SVP of sales and marketing
for Sony Broadcast. "2:30 in Las Vegas is 5:30
in Augusta. So
I would say that there are possibilities."

Sony is providing 3D sets to hospitality suites onsite at Augusta to view
the 3D feed, which will be produced using 12 cameras and focus on three holes,
with the "Amen Corner" of 11, 12 and 13th a likely target. Sony is also in
discussions with Comcast, which has agreed to carry the 3D broadcasts for free
across its cable systems, about how to provide public viewing venues around the
country. Several Sony Style retail stores are already served by Comcast's cable
pipes, including the "SonyStyle Comcast Labs" store that the two companies opened at Comcast Center inPhiladelphia a year ago as a venue for demonstrating new technologies.

After the tournament ends, Sony will use the recorded 3D footage to help
market its new 3D sets at retail.

"The reason we did it, essentially, is to provide demonstration footage we
can use globally," said Shapiro. "The pictures that come out of Augusta are going to be
used at retail around the world in Sony stores."

Sony, which had previously partnered with Augusta National on its first live
network HD broadcast of The Masters back in 2000, had first discussed the
possibility of a 3D production with Augusta
officials at last year's NAB, said Rob Willox, director of Sony Broadcast's
Content Creation Division, and began active negotiations in January. Sony has
already experimented with 3D golf in the field, shooting some test footage at
the Sony Open in Hawaii in January and
collaborating with ESPN on a 3D test it conducted at Augusta last month.

Willox said that golf lends itself to 3D, particularly around the greens,
and in many ways is an easier sport to shoot in 3D than football or basketball.

"Outside of the drive, there's nothing that happens incredibly fast," he
explained. "Fast sports present a challenge in 3D, because you don't want to
take the viewer along for a ride. The nice thing about a putting green is that
it's a relatively small, controlled area, and you know by statistical
probability where most balls are going to land. Once a ball is on the green,
you also have four to five minutes to get a shot established. So it's a good
pace for 3D, and they should be able to line up things exquisitely."

The 3D production of The Masters 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 after
striking a sponsorship deal with LG and broadcast it to digital cinemas.
Comcast will televise 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.

"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 experience."

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

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.