Mixed views on a mixed outcome: the AFL Grand Final in 3D

Analysis by Patrick Avenell

SYDNEY, NSW: When it was announced that ACMA would allow for Channel 7 to broadcast the AFL Grand Final in 3D, there were whoops of joys not only at the network and the various 3D TV suppliers, but also at Current.com.au's offices. Due to an extended break over the World Cup period, I hadn't had the opportunity to watch either selected games from South Africa or the concurrent State of Origin broadcasts in this technology. All I had seen were snippets from Monsters vs Aliens and stock footage provided by the manufacturers: my time had come.

Perhaps sensing that eagerness to watch not only my first live 3D TV broadcast, but also my beloved St Kilda playing in the game, Panasonic Australia lent me (under the strictest of product loan arrangements!) one of their new 65-inch 3D plasmas (TH-P65VT20A, RRP $5,999). It certainly took up a lot of space in my apartment's lounge room.

As a general rule, Current.com.au does not write product reviews: never had and, at least for the short-to-medium term, never will. So instead of conveying my opinion about the broadcast, here are some observations, made by either me or one of my 3D viewing colleagues:

– Setting up the TV to view 3D is not as easy or as intuitive as simply automatically scanning for channels or plugging in your Foxtel HDMI cable. As the broadcast is only through digital TV transmission, and not through Foxtel (at least not yet), the user must enable MPEG-4 channel functionality before scanning for channels. This takes around five minutes. Then, after selecting the 3D broadcast channel, the user must change the default 3D viewing setting to 'Side-by-side'. All up, this process is neither long nor laborious, but it is information worth conveying clearly when talking to consumers buying a 3D TV.

– When it comes to actually watching a game in 3D, the experience is definitely unique. The ground level shots provide the best use of the technology's added depth, with it much easier to judge the distance between the players on the field than in 2D. The wider angle shots provide greater resolution of the crowd, but this meant the ball got lost in the fans behind it. This is a particular problem only with 3D AFL, however, as in other sports, the ball does not travel so much or so high in the air.

– Although the picture never dragged or created the 'comet effect' of a tail developing on fast-moving objects, the switches between camera angles are harder to adjust to than in 2D. It was not uncommon to have to blink to refocus the eyes in these scenarios. Once refocused, it didn't take long to be re-immersed in the game.

– In-home 3D on your own TV with custom made glasses is much better than watching 3D at the cinema. This observation came from a fellow viewer who had watched the State of Origin in 3D at a cinema.

– Having a lot of glasses comes in handy. It only takes one person too many at a 3D party to force everyone into watching the game in 2D. This didn't happen on Saturday (as I had more glasses than friends), but it was a point made that if only one or two people arrive unexpectedly then a problem will emerge. This is a key point worth conveying at points of purchase, as it will probably lead to more upselling. Remember, once a consumer decides to spend a couple of thousand dollars on the TV, a few hundred more isn't that great an expense.

– Viewing angles are the most overrated criticism of 3D TVs. Not sure if it's only Panasonic that has solved this problem, but whether you're watching from straight in front of the TV, on the side or even well on the side whilst trying hang a St Kilda flag on the side of house whilst hanging out the window, there was no discernable difference in the effect. Just for the sake of settling arguments, it even works well enough when viewed with your head at a 90-degree angle.

– Having straps to hold the glasses around your neck come in handy when jumping to cheer a Nick Riewoldt goal.

With the game in the balance in the last quarter, it was decided that we watch the final quarter in 2D. This also provided a good control for comparing the two ways of watching the game. The first thing that strikes you is how much brighter 2D is. This is a point Sharp made when it launched Quattron 3D in Japan two weeks ago. Sharp thinks it has solved this problem by adding the yellow pixel: that assertion requires testing, but for bright colourful days like Melbourne was on Saturday, it more resembled the other 364 days of the year when viewed in 3D.

When an AFL game, and a grand final no less, finishes 68-68, it's hard to not feel immersed in the action, with or without 3D. Therefore, it should not be viewed as a slight on 3D that we didn't feel any less involved in the game once the glasses were off. The experience is definitely something different from the way TV has been for 60-plus years, so all TV suppliers should be congratulated for achieving such true innovation. The constant references to 3D during the Channel 7 broadcast should create a surge of interest in the various models this week, with two Grand Finals being now being shown in 3D across this coming weekend.

In the spirit of all the players coming back for another match this Saturday, Panasonic have agreed to let me watch the another Grand Final in 3D: that both me and my friends wanted this opportunity is perhaps the best endorsement of all.

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