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Wimbledon in 3D Evokes Telepresence, at Least for Some
July 6, 2011 | William Zimmerman
[Image: An audience member leaves the Los Angeles theatre as 3D replays (a bit blurry without the proper glasses) are shown from Petra Kvitova's rather quick 6-3, 6-4 win over Maria Sharapova in this morning's Wimbledon women's singles final. (Photo by Tom Hoffarth)]
This was a history-making moment in the 125th edition of Wimbledon. A live 3D feed was available in nearly 200 theatres worldwide, from Australia to Uruguay.
Southern California had five of the 50 U.S. theaters. England had 40 more.
That must have been the reason why a couple dozen of us had rolled out of bed before dawn and shuffled over to the otherwise deserted Rave 18 theatre over at the Howard Hughes Promenade near Westchester, getting there in time for the 6 a.m. start.
"Enjoy your movie," the half-awake ticket-taker said as she handed over a receipt. "I mean, your film ... I mean ... Just go up the escalator."
And there it was, Centre Court on the planet's most famous tennis venue. Grass, in all its visual ultra-dimensional splendor.
Now, 3D TV sets are supposed to be new hot ticket at the local Best Buy; plain-old HD sets are so last week. But take it further - when you've got access to specially-equipped theaters presenting a big-time, fan-friendly event that even encourages behavior like yelling at the 50-foot-wide screen, why buy into that home-experience hype job?
Yes, some actual cheered in the theater. And the noise even simmered a bit when the chair umpired called for quiet.
It felt that real in the mind's eye.
When a blue-outfitted ballboy jumped up after a point, sprinted to the net, grabbed the loose ball, and scrambled out of the picture, it was more than just another "Avatar" moment. The surround-sound picked up every thump of his feet pounding the sod.
All that was missing was "Smell-a-vision."
Even [Maria] Sharapova's sharper-image shrieks - "shouts or screams or whatever you want to call them," as BBC commentator Barry Davies described - became far more pronounced in this venue. For better or worse.
Unlike the way NBC or ESPN presented Wimbledon coverage over the past two weeks, this 3D production stuck to the low-court angles. Viewers could make a distinct visualization between the players and the crowd.
Most of the live play was from eye-level behind the baseline, with the occasional head of a line judge getting in the way. That only added to the feel that you were actually there watching over his shoulder.
Previous 3D experiments with football and basketball work to some degree, but not as well as tennis or boxing. The screen is less cluttered, the combatants more intimate and dynamic. It can feel like a video game at the highest level, but with real human movements.
At the right angle, a 100-plus mph serve flies right at the audience.
It's tough not to flinch.
Like at that point in the match when the strikingly embraceable Sharapova was trying to refocus.
Petra Kvitova was serving, down 40-30 at break point. She hammered a backhand right at Sharapova, who somehow returned it with a two-handed flick of the racquet, sending the ball fluttering back over Kvitova's head.
And directly toward me.
The ball dropped in for the point, and then hopped into the crowd. How could I possibly let it get past me? Must have been the glare.
Next time, I'll be better prepared. With 3D sunglasses. Unsmudged by popcorn butter.
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