South Africa's national football squad Bafana Bafana will become part of broadcasting history when their opening game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup is filmed and screened in 3D.

Connecticut-based sports broadcaster ESPN is to launch a new 3D network in mid-2010, just in time for Africa's first World Cup, which kicks off on 11 June.

At least 25 games in the much-anticipated football extravaganza will be shown in thrilling 3D, giving fans the sensation that the ball is hurtling towards them and about to fly right out of the screen.

The broadcasting giant made the announcement at this year's Consumer Electronic Show (CES), which took place in Las Vegas earlier in January. Initially only viewers in the US will see the 3D action, but ESPN broadcasts are likely to be available in the UK after the tournament.

Gary Shapiro, CES CE, described the announcement as a turning point for 3D.

ESPN has reportedly spent the last two years testing its 3D technology, and has selected South Africa for its debut of this next-generation format.

ESPN president George Bodenheimer said the new network would encourage the early adoption of 3D-ready television sets. "ESPN 3D marries great content with new technology to enhance the fan's viewing experience and puts ESPN at the forefront of the next big advance for TV viewing."

Historic agreement

FIFA and Sony, an official partner of the World Cup, signed a historic media rights agreement in Cape Town in December 2009.

The Japanese electronics manufacturer will provide 3D images for the 25 games, and will also supply the special screens for FIFA's first international Fan Fest - these are public viewing areas in Berlin, London, Mexico City, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Rome and Sydney.

In addition, all nine of South Africa's host cities will be FIFA Fan Fest locations, which are expected to draw millions of fans into the World Cup experience. Entrance is free, and football-crazy fans can watch all 64 matches in a secure, festive environment.

"This propels the football fan into a whole new viewing dimension and marks the dawning of a new era in the broadcasting of sport," said FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke at the Sony signing. "We are proud that the FIFA World Cup can serve as a platform for advancing technology and the viewing experience, and are truly fortunate to have Sony as a partner in this endeavour."

Sir Howard Stringer, CEO and president of Sony Corporation, added that viewers watching on 3D sets around the world will feel as though they are in South Africa inside a stadium.

The electronics giant is also to produce and distribute the official 3D film of the World Cup at the close of the tournament.

Seeing the world differently

The format of 3D viewing has been around for some time, but has recently leaped in popularity with the release of the mega-successful film Avatar, which took over US$1-billion (R7.5-billion) in ticket sales in its first three weeks of release.

The World Cup marks the first time the technology has been used for sports broadcasting.

The 3D television sets, which are a step beyond high definition, are pricey, and special glasses are also needed. However, ESPN anticipates that die-hard fans, unable to be at the World Cup in person, will be willing to hand over the dollars to have the best possible experience.

UK broadcaster Sky also announced the imminent launch of its 3D television service in Europe, becoming the first on that continent to offer it. The 3D-ready sets are expected to go on sale in the UK during the first half of 2010.

Three-dimensional television works through the process known as stereoscopy. Because human eyes view the world from two slightly different angles, a 3D image is produced when the brain merges the two images.

Special cameras, situated as far from each other as the distance between a person's pupils, record events from two slightly varying angles. This gives the illusion of depth on a screen. Images are viewed either through red-cyan or anaglyph glasses, or polarising glasses. The technology to watch a 3D film without glasses is available for the big screen, but is not practical for home viewing.

Reports from CES say that Sony, LG and Samsung are all on the verge of taking their 3D televisions to retail, after testing prototypes for about a year.

Source: MediaClubSouthAfrica.com, article written by Janine Erasmus; article appeared in Biz Community on 8 February 2010

For more information on 3D and HD use in South Africa, click here to go to last month's article 'What next after HD?'