Cable’s 3D Cheerleaders

4/05/2010 3:08 AM Eastern

Maybe cable operators are on to
something with these 3DTV demonstrations
of hockey and golf.

I base that on how firm their telco and
satellite competitors are in denouncing the
demos as worthless hype.

After Cablevision Systems beamed a thoroughly uncompetitive
hockey game in 3D from its Madison Square Garden
to whichever of its customers might own 3D-capable TV sets
on March 24, DirecTV said it was offered the opportunity
but passed. Rather than focus on “oneoff
events,” it’s focused on providing HD customers
with “a complete 3D experience.”

After Comcast last week demonstrated for reporters
in New York a 3D feed it and other cable
operators will receive and transmit from The Masters
Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in
Georgia, Verizon said it was “committed to delivering
a quality 3DTV experience, not just hype.”

The telco described the market for 3D as “very,
very early,” said content is only now becoming
available, and FiOS plans to have a formal 3D offering
ready in time for holiday sales of TVs.

True, it’s early. Very, very early. But it’s nice to see cable
exploit opportunities to stake a place in the 3DTV vanguard
after DirecTV hogged the 3D spotlight at the Consumer Electronics

I went to both the hockey and golf demos. For me, the golf
worked better, but hockey is a difficult TV sport, and golf is
a perfect fit. (Especially if it’s Sunday afternoon and a sofa
is nearby to nap on.) At the Comcast demo, there were both
“passive” and “active” glasses. The active glasses, with battery
power, were tight and my eyes never seemed to fully adjust;
Comcast executives said it would take a few minutes. I hope
that’s not a common experience, as I’m told active glasses (the
more expensive of the two) will be the ones needed for most
3D sets at first.

Both demos were cool. Cablevision’s press demo at MSG’s
Club Bar & Grill, had the best celebrities, with actors Chloe Sevigny
(Big Love) and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Rangers
legend Mark Messier.

Comcast’s, at the street-level studios of the SNY regional
sports network, had three great 3D-on-cable advocates in
the form of executives Mark Francisco, Mark Hess and Derek
Harrar. Hess had played the Augusta course once
and gave a perfect real-world example of 3D’s impact.
On TV, Augusta looks flat, he said. When you
go in person, you are overwhelmed by the hills
and dips and contours; 3D, he said, gives you a
much better feel for the course.

Francisco had answers for all the tech questions,
including that the picture resolution and transmission
rate were the same as for a typical Comcast live
sports event shown in high definition.

Harrar made the business case for the “one-off”
events DirecTV derided. Maintaining a loop of canned
programming, even as gorgeous as the Augusta images,
isn’t the best way for a viewer to sample 3DTV. It
makes more sense to have programs available on demand, including
the movies that Comcast has already shown.

As for predictions that 3D is a decade away from being a
mass market, Harrar said no way it takes that long. He said of
the movies Comcast has shown in HD and 3D formats, 16% of
the views were in 3D using glasses Comcast gave out at payment
centers and kiosks.

Considering the mix for Comcast on-demand movie buys
is about 20% to 25% in HD versus standard definition, that’s a
sign of strong early adoption, he said.

To the early 3D momentum powered by Avatar and CES, add
cable cheerleading to the list.