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Get ready for baseball in 3-D

July 13, 2010 | Chris Payatagool
From ISPR via The New York Times Bats blog

Baseball would seem to be difficult to portray in 3-D.

With cameras for baseball production positioned far away -- from center field and high above home plate -- and a baseball field lacking interesting contours, the likelihood of 3-D cameras providing impressive depth perception did not appear to be high Saturday and Sunday when the YES Network carried the Yankees-Mariners games.

The productions were done in conjunction with DirecTV and FSN Northwest.

But once a fiber problem from Safeco Field in Seattle on Sunday was fixed in the second inning, the 3-D effects popped into place. What started as a failed experiment shown to a group of guests at a Manhattan theater righted itself with stunning swiftness.

From the low first and third base camera positions, the batter, catcher and umpire were a perfect tableau in the foreground, as if they were on a platform, with the dugout in another dimension behind it. The very low home plate camera placed the same threesome in the foreground, with the pitcher in what felt visually like a different layer behind them, and the center fielder in another dimension in the land of far, far away.

The 3-D technology made the players look like vividly drawn action figures.

A single shot from the side of Yankee starter C.C. Sabathia not only separated him from his surroundings, but made him look like a separate planet.

The low-mowed grass appeared to roll out toward the screen, and the viewer could almost count the pebbles on the dirt around the batter's box and on the mound.

There are still elements to perfect. The 3-D effect is barely seen from the high home plate camera except when the home plate net comes into view. Right now, it looks like a flat high definition picture. Also, 3-D productions have to be cognizant of anyone coming too close to a camera; their appearances are usually inadvertent and are jarring to the eye and often blurry.
But that is a consequence, at least for now, of sports in 3-D being at their best when the cameras are positioned as low and as close to the action as possible.

The wish list for the future are cameras that can show pitches appearing to come directly at the screen, and the batted ball looking like it's going to land in the viewer's lap.

More baseball in 3-D is coming. On Monday night, ESPN will carry the Home Run Derby on its new 3-D Network, and on Tuesday, DirecTV customers with 3-D sets will be able to see the All-Star Game in the technology, in a production with Fox Sports.

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