Does sport benefit from 3D?

Australia has experimented with free to air 3D TV. Sort of, in fits and starts in limited areas. In 2010 we received some World Cup matches from South Africa, and some of the local football codes here. That’s it: sport and nothing but sport.

And, then, only in the five mainland capitals and a couple of regional centres. And even that is now in indefinite hiatus.

Meanwhile PayTV has come to the party with a real 3D channel. Called Foxtel 3D it offers, in the company’s words, ‘a mix of sport programs and live events from FOX SPORTS and ESPN’. More sport!

All of which raises the question: does sport in particular benefit from 3D?

There are two answers to this question: the theoretical one and the practical one.

In theory, anything that gives you more information is better. For example, that’s what high definition is all about. The extra information makes for a sharper picture with more detail, and consequently less guessing on your part about those fine details.

But in practice, while 3D produces an interesting effect on sports broadcasts, it doesn’t offer any real information, and can actually reduce useful picture content.

The 3D effect is achieved ‘stereoscopically’, by showing the left and right eye different images. But in the real world, that only works within metres of you. When you’re looking at something dozens of metres away – say, a footy match – you don’t see that layered effect that 3D TV’s produce. So it’s tricking you into seeing something that you don’t see in real life.

Meanwhile, it’s taking away stuff that would be more useful. The main one is resolution. The normal way of transmitting 3D TV images is by putting the left and right eye images side by side into each picture frame. The TV takes charge of cutting the picture in two, stretching each side out to full width and then showing them in order. But the result is that instead of a horizontal resolution of 1920 pixels available from HDTV, you’re only getting 960 pixels.

In addition, in these early days at least, most TVs seem to switch off their picture enhancement functions (such as frame interpolation) when showing 3D material, so you lose the benefit that some of these can provide to sports.

But, still in the real world, if the TV station is broadcasting in 3D and you like it, go for it. Chances are it will be better than the SDTV version anyway.