Thunder forward Serge Ibaka blocks a ball that appears to be coming through your television set. This could be among the unique images that ESPN 3D provides during its coverage of the Western Conference finals.
ESPN 3D is broadcasting three games of the series, beginning with Tuesday night's game in Dallas, and the entire NBA Finals.
“Basketball is very dynamic, a fast-paced sport,” said Phil Orlins, ESPN 3D coordinating producer. “Like with everything with 3D, there's an appreciation of the size and the athleticism that you don't necessarily feel with 2D.”
ESPN 3D, which launched last June and began producing NBA games in December, has aired Thunder road games at Orlando and Miami. For the conference finals, the network plans to use six cameras and two robotic cameras — one over each basket — for its coverage and a separate broadcast team. Terry Gannon and former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown will call Tuesday night's game.
The network's cameras are equipped with two lenses to create the 3D effect. “What's shot in the left camera is what's seen in your left eye and what's shot in the right camera is what's seen in the right eye,” Orlins said. “It creates that binocular viewing experience that allows your brain to fuse together two slightly different vantage points and see depth.”
Orlins said he attempts to place his cameras closer to the action than normal 2D cameras to capture high-impact visuals.
“There's always the balance we're trying to find is getting close but still having enough of an angle and a little bit of height that you're not lost in the trees, so to speak,” he said.
Although the network's coverage of the Masters golf tournament is spectacular because of the varied contours of Augusta National Golf Course, basketball is harder to capture on a flat surface.
“The ultra slow motion in 3D is always an eyecatching experience,” Orlins said. “We usually have that in one of the corners or slash type positions. The handhelds, being really close to the action down low, are really spectacular.”
Orlines said the above-the-rim shots can create “a feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see a ball coming toward the camera.”
Although ESPN 3D is available in nearly 70 million homes, the network's audience is small because few homes have 3D-capable sets. But that number is expected to rise dramatically in the next few years. DisplaySearch projects that by 2014 more than 40 percent of HDTVs sold will include 3D.
Orlins said ESPN 3D has televised nearly 100 events since its launch on June 11, 2011, for a World Cup game. The network has covered the Home Run Derby, college football, college basketball, NBA, Masters golf tournament, boxing, Winter X Games and Summer X Games.
“We're pushing toward an incredible selection of different types of events,” he said.
Besides sports programming, Orlins said 3D movies and video games will help drive 3D TV sales.
“When ‘Avatar' does $2.8 billion in business, It's hard to deny that's an impact on the 3D TV model as well,” he said.
If you're interested in watching ESPN3D, this is what you will need to get started:
* 3D-capable TV set. Costs range from $700 to $5,000. As with most new gadgets, the cost will come down as they are produced in larger quanties. Some of the new HD sets have 3D capability for about $200 to $300 more than a regular HD set.
* 3D glasses. You will need a set of specially designed glasses for all of your viewers. If a lot of people watch games with you, that can be expensive as the glasses are about $100 a set. Many of the new sets come with two pair. In the future this may change as 3D sets are being designed that won't require special glasses.
* A cable or satellite provider that carries ESPN3D. If you're a Cox Communications subscriber, you're out of luck. DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse have carriage agreements with the network.