Will Avatar Ruin Sports TV?

By Derek Simon | January 17, 2010 AAA

On Saturday, October 1, in the fifth inning of the third game of the 1932 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs, George Herman "Babe" Ruth gestured toward the stands. With the Wrigley Field crowd heckling him, Ruth calmly deposited the next pitch into the centerfield bleachers, exactly where he had been pointing.

But did the Babe really "call his shot" as many have claimed (and Ruth neither confirmed nor denied)?

Truthfully, no one really knows. Televised sporting events were still several years away at the time - a college baseball game between Columbia and Princeton in 1939 was the first - and the only video footage of Ruth's round-tripper appears to have been produced by the same folks behind the infamous "Nessie" photo of 1934. (Actually, a guy named Matt Kandle shot the video, but you get the distorted picture).

Now fast forward to November 15, 2009, when, shortly after the Tennessee Titans downed the Buffalo Bills 41-17, Titans' owner Bud Adams celebrated with a hand gesture of his own. Unlike Ruth, however, Adams pointed at the sky, with his middle finger instead of his index. (If you do a little sleuthing and stay flexible on which teams to follow, you can still enjoy all the excitement of live sporting events. Don't miss Money-Saving Tips For Sports Fans.)

There was another difference too: everybody seemed to know about Adams' salutation immediately. There was no grainy film to decipher, no speculation as to what may or may not have occurred. The proof was there for all to see, in full color, on ESPN, on local news stations, on YouTube and throughout cyberspace. It was yet another example of how technology is changing sports and the people who participate in them. And at the forefront of this high-tech revolution is 3D television.

3D In Your Living Room
At the start of the year, ESPN announced that it was launching a 3D network with the broadcast of a World Cup soccer match on June 11. According to a report in USA Today, "ESPN 3D expects to showcase at least 85 live sporting events during the first year. There'll be no reruns initially, so the network will be dark when there's no 3D event. Among other events planned for 3D broadcast: the Summer X Games (extreme sports), NBA games, college basketball and college football."

Obviously, ESPN is counting on the popularity of the movie "Avatar," which has now grossed close to $2 billion worldwide, to whet the appetite of 3D sports fans - and that may not be such a bad bet. A recent survey by the electronics research firm Retrevo revealed that, prior to the release of James Cameron's latest megahit, fewer than 40% of consumers polled were aware of 3D-HDTV technology. Since the film hit theatres in December, that figure has risen to 60%.

"Exposure to 3D films is important to the debut of 3D TV," argues Michelle Abraham, an analyst with In-Stat, an internet and digital entertainment research firm. "Consumers who have seen 3D films are more interested than the general population in being able to view 3D content at home."

Hurdles To Be Overcome
Still, what will be the ultimate impact of 3D sports programming? To begin with, it is more expensive - both to produce and consume. Then, there's the issue of the glasses. In addition to making everybody look like a high school science professor, some eye experts claim the special specs are also causing headaches.

"The illusions that you see in three dimensions in the movies is not exactly calibrated the same way that your eyes and your brain are," Dr Deborah Friedman, a professor of ophthalmology and neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, told Reuters.

"If your eyes are a little off to begin with, then it's really throwing a whole degree of effort that your brain now needs to exert. This disparity for some people will give them a headache."

It's also hard to eat with 3D glasses on - something that fellow moviegoers found out the hard way when I attempted to enjoy a bag of popcorn at a recent showing of Avatar. Instead of finding my mouth, many delicious kernels wound up flying over my right shoulder instead. Luckily, the people behind me thought it was one of the movie's 3D effects, so my poor aim (brought about by a lack of depth perception) was invariably greeted with numerous "oohs" and "aahs," as well as one "I could've sworn I felt that."

The Bottom Line
For now anyway, I'll stick to traditional 2D images of my favorite players and teams, while I continue to wonder whether or not Babe really called his shot. (These multi-million dollar contracts have haunted the players who scored them, then failed to deliver. Check out Top 10 Most Hair-Raising Sports Contracts.)

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