As the temperature rises, Spring Fever seems to affect people all around the country. One of the most common side effects is the advent of the upcoming golfing season officially opening with the Masters in Augusta, GA. Since 1934 the Masters Golf Tournament (or Masters for short) attracts the best in the game to gather on the border between Georgia and South Carolina to establish who gets the next green jacket. The Masters, and its host the Augusta National Golf Club, was one of the first events broadcast in HD, so this year’s 3D broadcast continues this tradition and is the first for golf tournaments around the world (as far as we know).
Insight Media Analyst
With 3D making headlines not only on technology publications like ours, but in all types of newspaper and magazines, the public interest is growing quickly. One key ingredient to keep the interest alive and growing is more 3D content, making the 3D transmission of the Masters a must see event for us at Insight Media. That said, my travel plans to Augusta for some firsthand reporting of the 3D acquisition techniques was unfortunately falling on deaf ears and we settled on watching the event with a 3D monitor from lovely Norwalk, CT.
For those golf enthusiasts who have access to a 3DTV, the 3D Masters was offered by many cable operators. If you have an nvidia-compatible 3D display, you can access a live feed over the Internet. Please go http://www.masters.com/3D/ for more information and the appropriate link and broadcast information.
Based on the information on the Masters website, the following requirements are posted for following the Masters on-line in 3D:
- a 3D-capable computer.
- an internet connection capable of a minimum of 10 Mbits/second.
- a supported 3D player.
Since we don’t yet have a 3DTV or a cable connection in our office, we opted for the PC route. First we tested the Internet connection with various on-line tools (speedtest.net and speakeasy.com) achieving a download speed between 10 and 15 MBit/s. While this test was well within the required range we also tested the Internet connection also with Pingtest.com for ping, jitter and packet loss. With an "A" rating we felt well equipped to watch the 3D on-line video stream on our brand new Acer 3D monitor combined with a NVIDIA 3D Vision solution.
As promised the 3D video stream was turned on shortly after 4 PM EDT on April 8th and was transmitted in side by side format with 16:9 aspect ratio (as shown in the picture). After copying the URL in the NVIDIA video player and setting up the correct video format, the stream started and left us with an error message that disappeared only after switching back and forth between 2D and 3D view. Once we cleared this obstacle the show started running and 3D golf covered our monitor as shown in the picture below.
Now to the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The Good: Watching the stream in 3D really added to the immersiveness and realism of the scenes. While the players were walking on the greens, the added third dimension made the difficulty of the shots more understandable. Overall the 3D experience added something to the viewing, almost as if you were standing on the green with the players. Also, it seems that the difficulties with text, which we saw in other 3D broadcasts (leader boards, etc.) has been mostly solved. The text boxes seem to float just slightly in front of the screen and had a good sharp image. Close-up shots and interviews with the players produced the best 3D image quality.
The Bad: As 3D specialists we couldn’t resist to look for artifacts in the video stream. First of all the 10 MBit/s transfer rate indicates some further compression and the side by side 3D format seems to be accomplished through column decimation in the original images. This allows both images (left and right eye) to be transferred as one frame, which is then divided back into two images, scaled and displayed as a 3D image. Many image artifacts were visible, many of which were the result on compression, which would have been there in the 2D image. But these compression artifacts, which seemed to be more obvious in 3D mode, when combined with the resolution loss of the signal, conspired to create to create a soft, fuzzy and artifact laden 3D image. Furthermore, the video stream is by no means as stable as TV transmission. While working in general for several minutes at a time, we also lost the feed many times. We were never successful in restoring the feed by pressing the play button but had to restart the video player and re-establishing the link.
The Ugly: With many camera shots featuring extreme zoom, the 3D effect was noticeably distorted. Player, observers or objects had a definite layered look and the distances did not seem to match up with what was perceived in the 2D shot. We don’t know which distances were actually correct. While the NVIDIA system has a 3D depth controller on the IR emitter, this had no visible effect on the video stream. In addition, any time the camera caught anything in the foreground (grass, trees, people, etc.), these extended well in front of the screen, often breaking the 3D effect, causing significant eyestrain and making the scene even less believable.
We are clearly being a bit critical of this telecast, but I am sure many of these aspects were visible to non-technical people too. Nevertheless, the game of golf should be well suited to 3D and once producers fine tune their coverage, we expect many issues to improve. One disturbing issue is bandwidth. Given this limited evaluation, it would seem that 10Mbps is not going to be adequate for good image quality in this broadcast scenario. Perhaps others have thoughts on this?
Nevertheless, even with all the hiccups of the content and video streaming, this is probably the closest I will ever come to playing in the Masters.