Channel Nine will become the first Australian TV network to transmit 3D television programming when it broadcasts the first of the three 2010 State of Origin Rugby League games on 26 May.

It’s a bold move by the network, which has been temporarily allotted extra digital spectrum by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to carry the 3D transmission, especially considering the limited potential audience.

The 3D Rugby League games will be accessible only by Sydney viewers with access to a 3D television.

Such TVs are currently available only from Samsung for a starting price of $2900, although Sony may have its 3D offering to market in time for the first broadcast too, providing consumers with a choice of brands.

Viewers will each need to wear a pair of active shutter glasses to see the action in 3D, and while up to two pairs are provided with each TV purchase, additional sets cost $100 or more each. They’re propriety to each brand too, so you can’t use a set of Sony glasses with a Samsung 3D television.

But while home living rooms might not deliver a 3D audience in numbers worth talking about, the pubs and clubs of Sydney just might. Watch out for venues spruiking the 3D footy experience, with glasses for hire at the door.

Behemoth retailer Harvey Norman, which sells Sony and Samsung products, has identified 3D as a key sales driver and is backing the broadcasts and the series. In light on the production costs, the project is likely to cost the company a shekel or two.

A full coverage Rugby League game such as the State of Origin will have 8-10 cameras covering the on-field play, two cameras in the host box for the commentators, two in the change rooms, and perhaps even another in the warm-up area. That’s up to 15 broadcast cameras and operators.

To capture the action in 3D, Nine needs to place two cameras in a special 3D rig, which essentially doubles the amount of broadcast cameras required. In addition, to manage the video feeds from all the cameras, the outside broadcast van must be equipped with special mixers and processors.

More importantly for fans, however, the 3D camera rig has a limited range of movement, making it potentially more difficult to capture the  “fast zooms” and “close follows” that are such an involving part of the coverage.