Court short: the 3D verdict from Wimbledon

Jamie Carter -

Novak Djokovic lurches for a Nadal forehand, but can only loop a soft shot high towards his opponent, who waits at the net.

A smash is inevitable, and in an instant the camera angle switches from just behind Djokovic to a diagonal position, still at court level, behind Nadal.

With no time for the human eye to adjust, the rally ends in a confused mess – not least for Nadal, who somehow put his shot into the tramlines.

If this had happened at match point it would have been akin to ITV missing Gerrard’s early goal Vs USA in the World Cup last year.

The 125th Wimbledon Championships were the first to be aired in 3D – on the BBC HD channel – though for many the BBC lowered its guard just a little too far.

I can promise you that anyone watching in 3D either Kvitova overcome Sharapova on Saturday, or Sunday’s duel between Nadal and Djokovic will have first noticed not the addition of depth, but the totally new perspective being used by the 3D cameramen.

We’re all used to watching multiple angles, but at Wimbledon the rally is always viewed from a high angle above and behind the court that guarantees a good view of the entire field of play.

Yesterday I watched the men’s final from behind the receiver – whichever end he happened to be – and from far closer to the action.

3D is all about the close-up (but not of the server, who’s initial shot is too fast), and juxtaposing it with what’s behind, to create an in-your-face 3D effect, but as an idea it’s only about total immersion.

We humans see the world through two eyes spaced slightly apart, and all 3D is trying to do is mimic that. Creating peripheral vision is just as crucial to achieve believability, which is why I’m far from convinced about the current trend for 32-inch 3DTVs.

In theory a 3D projector for the home ticks all the boxes.

I’ve currently got two at home for testing; Optoma’s GT720 and ViewSonic’s Pro8450w, which sell for around £500 and £1,000 apiece.

The Optoma GT720

Both are DLP models and both, crucially, come with a 3D processor (add another £250/£300) that take a feed from a Sky or Virgin box, a PlayStation3 or a 3D Blu-ray player, and switch it to a frame sequential signal that the projector can understand.

Frame sequential does require powered 3D shutter glasses, just like a TV, but they’re significantly lighter.

Glasses used with active 3DTVs sync with the screen, and – cleverly – the same applies here; the sync is with a particular colour beamed onto a projector screen.

Let’s start with the good stuff from Djokovic Vs Nadal, as watched on an Optoma GT720.

The closeness of the cameras definitely made the match feel different; I felt more immersed in – and entertained by – a match that was described as ‘far from a classic’ after the event by the 2D commentators.

That was news to me, though 3D shouldn’t take all the credit for the extra tension – digital TV was supposed to deliver a choice of camera angles long ago.

Extreme close-ups of the players at the net, as well as those ‘ooh, aah’ shots of the centre court crowd moving their heads from side to side, both showed-off the 3D format’s highs through my 3D projector.

Graphics also looked great, up to a point; virtual court maps dotted with serving statistics looked nuanced, with clean and visibly stunning 3D depth.

In short, it looked like a computer game, and reminded me of watching the French Open (which was screened live on Eurosport 3D by Virgin Media) on a LG 3DTV, when the closest player looked like he’d been cut out and brought forward a few inches.

At least that basic 3D effect was consistent, which is more than I can say for 3D projection – at least when watching broadcast 3D.

My main issue with 3D projection isn’t that there’s no 3D effect, because there is – it just takes so darn long to emerge.

Actually picking-out each element in the picture and working out what’s behind and in front suddenly becomes hard work, and it’s a slow process for the human eye to do.

If I focused on a player, the crowd was a messy double image, and vice versa. It wouldn’t be a major problem save for the fact that my eyes took two or three seconds to adjust. By the end I was as tired as the players.

It’s the same story with the BBC’s Wimbledon Championships logo, which popped up just before an action replay and leapt towards me, only to disappear before I could focus on any of it.

So do I recommend 3D projection over 3DTV? Well, actually, yes – done properly it can be far superior to a 3DTV.

At last week’s CEDIA Home Technology Event in London was the proof; Sim2’s single lens Lumis 3D-S, which uses triple flash tech to deliver the sharpest, cleanest, most involving video I think I’ve ever seen.

There’s only one catch – it costs 3 £29,995.

3D projection does have a future, but for now, only the wealthy need apply.

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