The 3D experience
What's it like watching live football in 3D? skysports.com went to a West London pub to find out.
By Stephen Mills
Last Updated: 01/02/10 9:38am
It's not often you see a man-of-the match performance from Nani... perhaps somebody told him this was a special occasion.
Sunday's game between Arsenal and Manchester United made history by becoming the first sporting event, anywhere in the world, to be broadcast live to a public audience in 3D.
Nine pubs across the country were kitted out with new 3D televisions and a few hundred lucky punters were given a taste of the future of sports broadcasting.
skysports.com caught a 3D screening in a West London pub and it's not easy to portray what an enthralling and memorable experience it was. If you've seen 3D films at the cinema you'll be aware of how impressive modern 3D technology can be, but when you combine that with the thrill of a live, vitally important Premier League match, a trip down the pub suddenly feels like an 'event'.
On arriving, the scene was just like what you'd be used to on a Super Sunday down your local; pints, nibbles and football fans gathered around a flat-screen TV waiting for the big game to kick off. There was, however, one rather significant difference. Everybody was wearing 3D glasses.
The sight of a room full of people wearing what looked like sunglasses indoors in the middle of winter was pretty odd. Throughout the pub, friends were taking pictures of each other in their specs, but once things got underway the novelty factor soon wore off.
Collecting my specs from a box by the door in the way into the pub, I was impressed by how comfortable and (relatively) stylish they were. If you're imagining the cardboard frames and green and red lenses of the 1980s then you need to think again.
Clearly 3D technology has come a long way since the 1980s and even watching the team line-ups being read out by Sky Sports' special 3D commentators - Alan Parry and Alan Smith - was somewhat awe-inspiring.
As the commentators discussed the formations, the names of the players magically appeared from behind you, flew over your head and landed in their position on the pitch. The whole pub was gasping... and the players hadn't even walked out onto the field yet.
As the teams emerged from the tunnel Alan Parry informed us we were watching "a moment of television history". I agreed. I somehow felt as if I could reach out, pick up Andrei Arshavin and put him in my back pocket.
For the first few minutes it was hard to concentrate on the game as you marvelled at the technology. Balls through the air looked particularly impressive and certain camera angles showed the real value of 3D TV. A replay of Arshavin curling an early shot past the post was filmed from a low position behind the goal and really made you feel like you were sitting in the stands.
Close-up shots and low camera angles made best use of the technology but the whole 90 minutes was visually absorbing. As a girl behind me at the bar commented: "This isn't like watching a football match. This is more of an experience."
Then came the first live 3D goal. It may be recorded in the history books as a Manuel Almunia own goal, but the outrageous skills of Nani to set up the chance would have looked good in any dimension. As the word "goal" burst out of the screen towards us, we enjoyed replays of an opener which seemed fitting for the occasion.
By the time Wayne Rooney slotted home United's second most people had seemingly forgotten they were wearing 3D glasses. United fans punched the air and Gooners hung their heads in despair. Even the most impressive technology, it seems, can't get in the way of the passions of a football supporter.
Removing the specs to visit the bar, I was surprised to see that you could still follow the game without your glasses on. Everything was a little blurred, but you could still make out most of the players and understand what was going on.
The specially commissioned 3D adverts kept everybody transfixed to the screen throughout the half-time interval. Clips of rugby, cricket, boxing and golf (which looked particularly impressive) demonstrated how well 3D TV will soon be applied to other sports. A lengthy 3D commercial for James Cameron's much-talked about blockbuster Avatar also showed how exciting it will be to watch Sky Movies in 3D in the years to come.The whole pub remained glued to the screen throughout the second half and even when the game lulled following United's third goal, the visual spectacle kept the interest going right up until the 90th minute.
When the final whistle blew I was half expecting everybody to whip off their specs and step back into normality, but the vast majority kept their glasses on to enjoy the post-match interviews in 3D.
The George and Devonshire's landlord, Ron Cameron, was certainly impressed.
"It was absolutely fantastic," he told us after the game. "At first it felt a bit strange, but afterwards you got into it and it was great."
But does he expect the idea of watching 3D football down the pub to catch on?
"I've had a lot of phone calls," he continued.
"We tried to keep this quiet, but word got out and you'd be amazed at how many people phoned up. Everybody wanted to book tables and we don't get that usually.
"There was a massive interest. It's something different and people want to be part of it."
On the final whistle, BSkyB's Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch said he felt the experiment was a huge success
"It really worked well, he said. "It gives you a very different perspective on the game.
"We'll learn and we'll improve as we go on. The lower camera shots which went diagonally across the pitch gave you a greater depth and I thought it looked sharp.
"The glasses were fine. People put them on and within a few minutes they forgot about them. It was interesting when the game was essentially over, everyone was still focused on the TV. Their attention didn't move and they didn't get distracted.
"It will work very well for big showcase events where people want to come together and share the experience.
"I think you saw a glimpse of the future today. It can only grow from here."
And with Sky set to launch Europe's first dedicated 3D TV channel in April - when hundreds of pubs will be able to show live Premier League football in 3D every week - you could be part of that future sooner than you think.