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Pigskins to Fly Off Screens

11/28/2008 7:00 PM Eastern

What's the next big TV technical advance after HD? It might be 3-D linebackers barreling into your living room — although analysts say the technology will take years to find its way into televised broadcasts.

The National Football League will run a test of a live, 3-D broadcast with the NFL Network's Dec. 4 Thursday night game, pitting the San Diego Chargers against the Oakland Raiders, to three specially-equipped movie theaters.

The broadcast will be shot and transmitted with cameras and technology provided by 3ality Digital, and then delivered to theaters in Boston, Los Angeles and New York City that have 3-D projectors from Beverly Hills, Calif.-based RealD. Thomson's Technicolor division will provide the satellite transponder time and digital downlink services to each theater. (Yes, viewers need to don special 3-D glasses, although not the headache-inducing red-and-blue variety.)

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the live telecast is a “proof of concept,” and noted that because the matchup is an NFL Network game, the league has the opportunity to experiment with the 3-D technology.

“The test comes at no expense to the NFL but will enable us to see the technology live and gather feedback about its potential use in the future,” he said.

The screenings aren't open to the public: Invites are going to NFL owners who belong to the broadcasting and digital media committees, along with network partners and other industry executives.

It's not the first time a live sporting event has been broadcast in 3-D, but so far all such tests have been confined to movie theaters. Meanwhile, networks have run 3-D programming, such as Disney Channel's Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert this summer, but those have used the conventional red-and-blue cellophane glasses, which don't provide the image clarity of newer approaches.

TVs with 3-D capabilities are currently on the market, from manufacturers including Mitsubishi and Samsung Electronics, and companies like 3ality are developing systems that do not require any glasses at all. Today, though, there are no industry-wide standards for reproducing 3-D video.

Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey said he expects 3-D to be used for special events in theaters, like concerts and football games. In the home, he said, video games will be the first place the technology matures before it can be applied to TV programming.

“The 'D' that matters in the home right now is 'HD,'” he said. “You and I won't be upgrading to 3D TV sets for at least another five years.”

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