World Cup 2010: ESPN 3D Now On-Air

Cable sports giant ESPN's latest network, ESPN 3D, launched successfully at 9:30 am EST Friday with the stereoscopic 3D broadcast of the 2010 FIFA World Cup match between Mexico and South Africa.

ESPN held a launch event for the press at its Bristol, Ct. headquarters, where the game could be seen on both a Samsung DLP set that used active-shutter glasses and a Hyundai LCD set that used passive glasses. Through the first half-hour of the broadcast, there were no major image problems in the feed, which is being produced by host broadcaster HBS in Johannesburg, though were a few times the picture briefly froze due to compression issues.

Sony, which is sponsoring the channel's launch, has supplied a number of its new 3D LCD sets to ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla., where ESPN is hosting a viewing party for fans.

ESPN began the broadcast with a brief intro and some footage from the opening ceremonies, which were followed by 3D commercials from Sony, Procter & Gamble's Gilette brand and Pixar's upcoming Toy Story 3 movie. It also aired a new 3D This is SportsCenter spot which depicted anchor Stan Verrett demonstrating 3D to Los Angeles Dodger Andre Ethier and accidentally breaking a 3D camera with a baseball bat in the process.

Some game shots gave more of a feeling of depth than others, with flags waving in the crowd being one of the most impressive shots, along with occasional FIFA graphics that fly across the screen. The only full-time graphics on the screen are a scorebug in the upper left corner of the screen, and a small ESPN 3D logo in the upper right.

Kevin Stolworthy, SVP of ESPN technology, said that ESPN expects a few minor glitches with the early World Cup coverage, such as convergence issues, but expects they'll get fixed during the tournament. ESPN EVP of technology Chuck Pagano said that ESPN has been involved in recent test productions done by HBS and was confident they were ready.

Bob Toms, VP of production enhancements for ESPN, said that ESPN will have a more usual complement of graphics for the first 3D event it produces, the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby in Anaheim, Calif. on July 12. But he said ESPN's overall graphics approach for 3D will be more subtle than conventional HD, to "let people live in the picture more."

Speaking about an hour into the broadcast, Stolworthy said he was pleased so far and noted that soccer was a particularly challenging sport for 3D because of its continuous format. He said he's looking forward to American sports in 3D that will allow for more replays, which are particularly dramatic in 3D.

"It's such a tough sport, because it's nonstop action," he said. "You see a replay for five seconds, and, Boom, you're cutting back to a [live] camera."