Comcast’s 3D Coverage of Masters Reveals Benefits of Doing It Right

Gary Traver, SVP & COO, Comcast Media Center

Gary Traver, SVP & COO, Comcast Media Center

April 14, 2010 – In some respects it was just another indicator that 3DTV is emerging as a force to be reckoned with, but Comcast’s 3D television and online broadcast of the Masters Golf Tournament this month was unlike anything yet seen in the way of live event coverage in 3D.

“We really wanted to take full advantage of what 3D can offer viewers by optimizing every aspect of the production process end to end,” said Gary Traver, senior vice president and COO of Comcast Media Center, which served as the production and distribution hub for the broadcast. “I think the resulting viewing experience is an eye opener.”

Indeed, to one who has been through the 3D demo grind at trade shows over the past couple of years, the images conveyed from Augusta as seen in a screening room at CMC in Denver were of a different order. Gone were the artificial depth fields, where the 3D version of dimensionality is not the one we’re accustomed to in day-to-day experience.

Motion was captured differently as well. Instead of moving images that can seem strangely apart from surrounding reality, like some kind of computer-generated cardboard cutouts skipping from one spatial field to the next, every moving image from people down to little white balls bouncing across fairways was completely three dimensional, flowing seamlessly as an integrated part of the entire vista.

“You can see how 3D can dramatically enhance the viewing experience, giving a unique, immersive perspective of the golf environment,” said Derek Harrar, Comcast senior vice president and general manager for video and entertainment, in another blog. “The challenges to the players represented by the varied contours of the course come alive.”

Watching the scenes unfolding on screen was like viewing the proceedings through an open window from someplace just off the fairway, commented one observer at the CMC screening. Or, as Tom Hess, Comcast’s senior vice president of video product development, put it, “I can honestly say the 3D coverage I saw today of the tournament’s opening round… made me feel like I was actually in the gallery watching some of the world’s best golfers up close and in person.”

Surprisingly, the effect was just as compelling on the side-by-side stereoscopic display viewed through polarized glasses at CMC as it was on the full resolution dual stream display viewed through active shutter glasses. This could be significant, insofar as the reduced resolution required to squeeze two streams into the bandwidth allocated for a normal HD channel as used in the side-by-side approach with polarized glasses is widely seen as inferior to the other approach, which delivers two HD streams at full resolution.

The flat-screen monitor displaying the polarized version in the CMC screening room employed enhanced resolution techniques that helped overcome the reduced per-stream bandwidth to the point where the difference between the two displays was not apparent to the average viewer. While the Blu-ray Disc Association has adopted a 3D standard that employs the active, full-resolution approach in conjunction with a new compression technique known as MVC (Multiview Video Coding) that reduces bandwidth consumption to about 1.5 times that of a single HD channel, cable and satellite operators planning to launch 3D services are opting, in the early stages at least, for the single-HD-channel approach of the side-by-side mode.

The Masters screening at CMC marked the second time ScreenPlays has witnessed a demonstration of superior quality via a polarized one-channel feed that was on par with the shutter-view approach, the other being DirecTV’s demo at the Consumer Electronics Show (see January issue, p. 8). If such experiences become the norm, service providers would be able to avoid a second-class 3D stigma without requiring expensive shutter glasses and without consuming extra bandwidth.

But the key when it comes to the quality of television broadcast in 3D will come down to how the content is produced, starting with the camera work. This was the revelation coming from Comcast’s Masters broadcast, which was the first live multi-camera next-gen 3D production for television broadcast.

As explained in a blog posted during the tournament by Hess, multiple cameras were positioned in pairs, one for each eye, across the course. The images from these cameras were fed to a production truck where a 3D expert, Vince Pace of Pace Digital, produced the real-time feed into the Comcast fiber network that connects to the CMC in Denver.

According to Traver, the CMC processed those two feeds into seven different formats suited to the requirements of the various distributors here and abroad who were served by broadcast streams coming out of CMC. These included a twin full-resolution feed for viewing through shutter glasses that was looped back to the closed circuit system at the Augusta National Golf Club and a side-by-side single-channel MPEG-2 feed for distribution over the networks of CMC cable affiliates, including Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Cablevision and Shaw Communications of Canada, as well as Comcast Cable.

Other formats included MPEG-4 and VC-1 as well as a feed delivered to IBM for distribution over the Web for PC viewing in conjunction with a software-based 3D player at a bit rate of 4.5 mbps.

The CMC used multiplexing technology supplied by RealD to combine the two separate images into the single 1080i side-by-side format, which was delivered over MPEG-2 at 18.75 mbps to cable affiliates. Cable viewers with 3D compatible HDTV sets were able to watch the broadcast via HDMI connection from their HD set-tops. Comcast also sent the signal to Sony Style retail stores in its territories for viewing by customers in those locations.

Traver declined to specify what might be next on Comcast’s 3D event production agenda. But he made clear the energy was building on doing more as a result of the viewing experiences executives had with the Masters. “We’re definitely talking about the possibilities,” he said.

The 3D production feed being created by The Masters uses footage shot by multiple cameras on the course. These cameras produce two distinct images – one for the right eye and one for the left eye – that are fed to a production truck where 3D expert Vince Pace of Pace Digital produces the feed in real-time that goes onto Comcast’s fiber network in Augusta. From there, it travels as two IP-encapsulated video streams to our Comcast Media Center.
At the CMC, we’re using RealD 3D multiplexing technology to combine the two separate images into a single 1080I side-by-side format to create the television and Internet 3D viewing experience. We’re creating and transmitting multiple video formats (MPEG2, MPEG4 and VC-1) across our national fiber backbone to providers nationally and internationally. Once the signal reaches consumers’ homes, an advanced HD set-top box, connected to a new 3DTV via HDMI, displays the side-by-side images together, creating the 3D picture for anyone wearing 3D glasses. And online, IBM is taking our 3D video signal from the CMC, and streaming it from www.masters.com.
Seems complex, huh? It is, but that’s the magic of what we do every day. We take care of the technical details, so you can simply turn on your television or log onto the Internet to enjoy great content. Or in the case of The Masters in 3D, you can get a glimpse of the future of TV…today
We worked with them to deliver the first golf HD broadcast years ago, and today we’re using our national fiber backbone to make a little history again with the first live, national next-generation 3D broadcast of a major sporting event on TV and online.

TV sets that employ echniques available for doubling lines to create the illusion of higher resolution

Comcast to deliver The Masters Golf Tournament in 3D to TV and Internet
Posted by Derek Harrar, SVP GM Video and Entertainment, in Media %26 Entertainment
Moments ago, Augusta National Golf Club announced our partnership to deliver the Masters Tournament in next generation 3D to US homes. For the first time ever, consumers with new 3D televisions and 3D-enabled PCs will be able to watch the next evolution of 3D in their homes on television and on the Internet when the Masters broadcasts live in 3D from April 7-11. This historic broadcast will be a glimpse at the future of entertainment, and we couldn’t be more excited to bring it to consumers first.
In fact, this event will mark a series of industry firsts – the first live national next-generation 3D broadcast of a major sporting event on TV, the first live simulcast of a next-gen 3D event online, and the industry’s first live multi-camera next-gen 3D production.
We’ll be providing consumers with access to a never-before seen Masters coverage of the Tournament through a dedicated 3D channel that will show about two hours of live footage per day. This channel will show customers a unique viewing experience from the traditional Masters coverage using different camera angles produced by the Masters for this rare 3D experience.
Our engineers in Comcast Labs have been testing transmission of footage from Augusta National over the past few weeks and I can tell you that it’s nothing short of spectacular. You can see how 3D can dramatically enhance the viewing experience, giving a unique, immersive perspective of the golf environment. The challenges to the players represented by the varied contours of the course come alive and I particularly liked one shot where the sand flew from the bunker. Wow.
To make the experience possible, Comcast will use our fiber network to carry a 3D production feed provided to the Comcast Media Center where we will package it for distribution to our systems and the Masters website. Sony and IBM are playing critical roles in working with us and the Masters to make this 3D broadcast available to consumers.
As our industry experiments with new ways to deliver live 3D content to the home, consumer electronics manufacturers like Sony, Panasonic and Samsung are beginning to make 3D-enabled TV sets available at retail. If you’re one of those early adopters who had to get your hands on an HDTV set in the late 1990s and like to try every new device first, then this is your chance to watch the next big thing. You will also be able to play the live 3D stream at www.masters.com on your PC, using a 3D media player, 3D monitor and 3D glasses. Traditional Masters Tournament coverage will continue to be available in HD on CBS and ESPN with highlights On Demand and online.
The Masters has long been a leader in the adoption of new broadcast technologies and holds the distinction of being the first golf tournament presented live in HD. Similarly, Comcast was one of the first cable companies to offer HDTV content to our customers. Since then, we’ve dramatically increased the amount of HD content we provide and seen the number of HDTVs skyrocket from zero to fifty percent household penetration today. Similar to HD, Comcast has consistently offered traditional (“anaglyph”) 3D movie content though On Demand and has seen a strong response from its customers. This past December, Comcast was recognized in a research study as one of the top three trusted 3D brands, and the only video provider, along with Samsung and Sony.
We’ll be providing additional updates and news here as the events draw closer. Until then, see you at the 19th hole.
Update: We updated this post to clarify the coverage details.

The Masters Goes Live in 3D
Posted by Mark Hess, SVP of Video Product Development, in Innovation
The wait is finally over. The excitement that’s been building since The Masters announced their 3D plans, is coming to a crescendo as coverage of the first of pro golf’s four major tours is being delivered on television and online like never before.
Having visited Augusta National Golf Club on two different occasions, I can honestly say the 3D coverage I saw today of the tournament’s opening round, produced by The Masters, made me feel like I was actually in the gallery watching some of the world’s best golfers up close and in person. I thought it might be interesting to share a behind-the-scenes look at what went into making this historic broadcast possible.
As you might imagine, it was quite an honor when The Masters asked us earlier this year to help them with their first 3D production. We’ve been providing television service to the Augusta community, including Augusta National Golf Club, for almost four decades. We worked with them to deliver the first golf HD broadcast years ago, and today we’re using our national fiber backbone to make a little history again with the first live, national next-generation 3D broadcast of a major sporting event on TV and online. It’s been exciting to work with the Masters, Sony and IBM in the weeks leading up to the Tournament. Our engineers, led by Mark Francisco (check out Scott’s interview with Mark), have been on the ground in Augusta and in Comcast Labs in Philadelphia and Denver preparing for this. And they’ll be onsite at Augusta National through the last putt on 18 on Sunday, making sure it all works.
So how are we doing this? Read on…and for those of you don’t want to get caught in the technical rough, you can skip to the last paragraph.
Here we go. The 3D production feed being created by The Masters uses footage shot by multiple cameras on the course. These cameras produce two distinct images – one for the right eye and one for the left eye – that are fed to a production truck where 3D expert Vince Pace of Pace Digital produces the feed in real-time that goes onto Comcast’s fiber network in Augusta. From there, it travels as two IP-encapsulated video streams to our Comcast Media Center.
At the CMC, we’re using RealD 3D multiplexing technology to combine the two separate images into a single 1080I side-by-side format to create the television and Internet 3D viewing experience. We’re creating and transmitting multiple video formats (MPEG2, MPEG4 and VC-1) across our national fiber backbone to providers nationally and internationally. Once the signal reaches consumers’ homes, an advanced HD set-top box, connected to a new 3DTV via HDMI, displays the side-by-side images together, creating the 3D picture for anyone wearing 3D glasses. And online, IBM is taking our 3D video signal from the CMC, and streaming it from www.masters.com.
Seems complex, huh? It is, but that’s the magic of what we do every day. We take care of the technical details, so you can simply turn on your television or log onto the Internet to enjoy great content. Or in the case of The Masters in 3D, you can get a glimpse of the future of TV…today

Chicago Daily Herald
How close do you want to get to Tiger Woods? Shoulder to shoulder? But can’t afford to go to August, Ga., for the 2010 Masters Tournament?
Early adapters of 3D television and PCs likely are getting that chance this week, without an extra fee, as Comcast provides its transmission of the Masters in 3D through Sunday.
It’s also a first for the cable company seeking to jump onto a rising trend after the successful films “Avatar” and “Alice in Wonderland.”
To receive the Comcast transmission, subscribers will need a 3D-ready TV or PC monitor and specially designed glasses to feel like they’re really on that green. Comcast, which has its Midwest headquarters in Schaumburg, has been transmitting 3D coverage of the Masters because that’s the future of television, said Comcast spokesman Rich Ruggiero.
“We feel this is a unique opportunity with the Masters to make this available to our customers who have 3D TVs today,” Ruggiero said.
Quoting different research studies, Ruggiero said that more consumers will be buying 3D TVs in the next few years, so demand for 3D content will increase. Comcast already got a taste of what its subscribers want with OnDemand movies, such as “My Bloody Valentine.” About 65 percent had requested the 3D version. So Comcast had to ship them the paper 3D glasses to view the program, he said.
While Comcast doesn’t yet know what impact the Masters 3D transmission will have, the company is eager for more such programs and events. Ruggiero couldn’t say what 3D program will be next, or when “Avatar” and others will be available.
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ÄAT%26T, which has its Midwest headquarters in Hoffman Estates, said this week it has invested about $40 million from 2008 to 2009 to update about 700 cell towers and about 40 antennas and microcell sites, all to boost wireless capacity for its 3G broadband network.
ÄPlatinumTel, the prepaid wireless service provider in the Chicago and suburban market, has partnered with Embee Mobile, an e-commerce provider for social media, to launch the PlatinumTel Mobile Wallet Facebook application. It allows users to redeem points for adding minutes on their mobile phone account from Facebook.
ÄElgin-based Re/Max Northern Illinois has added a new feature so you can find newly constructed properties on its regional Web site, illinoisproperty.com.

Comcast Details Masters 3D Plans
Gives demo of live feed from Augusta
By Glen Dickson — Broadcasting %26 Cable, 3/31/2010 6:54:35 PM
Comcast gave New York media a preview of what 3D coverage of The Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club will look like next week, simulating a live feed by transmitting 3D test footage from Augusta across its fiber network and delivering it through Motorola HD set-tops to LG and Sony consumer 3D sets.

The demonstration was designed to replicate the transmission path Comcast will use next week to deliver the 3D coverage to HD customers who have bought a new 3D-capable set, said Comcast Senior VP Mark Hess, as well as to package it to other operators that will carry the Masters 3D feed including Time Warner Cable, Cox, Cablevision and Canadian operator Shaw. Comcast was playing the footage off a server in the NEP/PACE SS-3D production truck situated at Augusta National, backhauling it over fiber to Comcast Media Center (CMC) in Denver, then compressing it for final delivery to the home and sending it back out over its fiber network to local delivery points.

The 3D demonstration, held at SNY Studios in midtown Manhattan, featured an LG 3D set that used Real D passive glasses and a Sony 3D set that used battery-powered active glasses. Comcast also showed the 3D footage on a 3D-capable Acer laptop that worked with the passive glasses, simulating the free 3D Web stream that will be available during the tournament on masters.com.

Sony is sponsoring the 3D production through a deal with Augusta National, and Comcast will be delivering the 3D feed to Sony displays in hospitality tents at the club. Comcast will also provide the feed to IBM, which is supporting the 3D Web stream on masters.com.

According to Comcast Fellow Mark Francisco, the Masters 3D feed will be delivered in the 1080i, side-by-side format over an ASI stream to CMC, where it will be compressed to 18.75 megabits per second for final delivery to the home. That is the same rate that Comcast typically delivers for live 2D HD sports telecasts today, he adds.

While the New York demonstration used an MPEG-4 feed, Comcast will use MPEG-2 compression for the national feed to ensure that it is viewable by all existing Comcast HD set-tops. Comcast will also use multiplexing technology from 3D specialist RealD to deliver the side-by-side format. RealD’s technology has been adopted by a number of set-maker including Sony, Samsung and Vizio, and was licensed by Cablevision for its 3D telecast of a New York Rangers hockey game last week.

The Web feed, which relied on advanced compression technology and a software-based 3D player, was delivered at a bitrate of 4.5 Mbps.

ESPN is producing the Masters coverage with PACE, and regular ESPN commentators Mike Tirico, Terry Gannon and Andy North will call the action. Coverage will include two hours of the Par 3 Tournament on Wed., Apr. 7 on holes 4, 8 and 9, airing live from 3-5 pm EST. Coverage of the main tournament from Thurs., Apr. 8 through Sun., Apr. 11 will feature holes 14, 16 and 18 with rotating coverage of holes 10-13 and 17. It will air live from 4 pm-6 pm EST on Thursday and Friday and from 5-8 pm EST on Saturday and Sunday. On-demand replays will also be available.
Comcast executives didn’t disclose any future 3D programming plans, and declined to comment on the status of carriage negotiations with ESPN over its upcoming 3D channel. They said that plans for public viewing parties for the Masters were still being formulated, and would probably consist mostly of VIP and press events.

Hess did confirm that Comcast will be providing a feed to Sony Style stores that cross its footprint. Sony executives have told B%26C that there will be a 3D viewing event at the Sony Style store at Comcast Center in Philadelphia. Part of the challenge with public viewing parties is a lack of 3D sets; Sony won’t get meaningful volume of its new 3D sets until June.

Hess, a former college golfer who has had the opportunity to play Augusta National, is eagerly anticipating the coverage. He says he was “blown away” by 3D’s ability to accurately depict the elevation changes of Augusta National, which he called the true challenge of the course. He expects particularly dramatic shots from the par-4 10th hole, which features a downhill fairway and a green that slopes sharply right to left.