"I'll tell ya one thing—I'm the star, not 3D."
That's Don Cherry's take on this Saturday night's special 3D broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada.
Six Panasonic 3D high definition cameras—four on the ice and two in the booth—will bring all the action in the new 3D format for Saturday's Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens tilt.
CBC plans to duplicate the 3D experience again on February 20 at the annual outdoor Heritage Classic from McMahon Stadium in Calgary.
Cherry and his long-suffering "Coach's Corner" desk mate, Ron MacLean, recently gave a demonstration of the new 3D technology at a news conference where the CBC unveiled its winter slate of programs.
An audience of CBC personnel, advertisers and reporters were handed 3D glasses in order to watch a short clip on a giant screen.
Even Cherry was impressed with the test.
"The close-ups were unbelievable," said Grapes. "(Boston Bruins' goaltender) Timmy Thomas looked like he was coming right onto the stage. Know what it looked like? It looked like you were standing right by the glass."
MacLean was equally enthusiastic.
"It's the old story," he said. "You're always trying to get that live experience to translate to TV and that definitely helps make it happen. It's magical, it really is."
In order to take in the experience, viewers at home will need a new 3D-ready TV set—event sponsor Panasonic hopes it will be one of their new Viera models, but Sony, Samsung and Vizio are also offering the new technology. Special glasses—not the amber/blue ones that worked with CBC's "Queen in 3D" broadcast last summer—will also be required.
MacLean, for one, thinks viewers will embrace the experience. He believes 3D will have "10 times the impact" that high definition has had—at least on hockey broadcasts.
"I think hi-def was good for television in general but hockey didn't translate all that well," he says. "White ice really doesn't look that attractive versus the greens of Fenway Park or Augusta National.
The "Battle of the Blades" host says his wife will often come in the living room and ask why he isn't watching the game on a hi-def channel.
"Half the time I don't even notice," he says. "I'm just watching the hockey game." Cherry, who watches as much hockey as he can on TV, says he's the same way.
While this is a first for "HNiC," it's not the first 3D hockey broadcast in North America. New York cable channel MSG streamed a live broadcast of a Rangers-Islanders game in 3D last March.
Sports in general seems to be driving the push to 3D TV, with ESPN in the U.S. leading the way. The World Cup, U.S. Open Tennis and the Masters have all already tested the new dimension. There are plans this season to offer NBA as well as NCAA basketball games in 3D. In Canada, TSN has yet to jump on the 3D bandwagon.
Bell, Rogers, Shaw, Telus and Videotron are picking up the Hockey Night in Canada 3D signal.
As for "Coach's Corner," Cherry and MacLean aren't sure if Canada is ready for them in 3D. The test screening showed the two on a much wider set that made them look like they were on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.
"I liked that there was lots of extra head room—for Don," cracked MacLean.
Cherry in particular sounds like he's not quite ready to run out and get a whole new 3D wardrobe.
"'Coach's Corner' doesn't need 3D. We don't need a gimmick," he said.
You could argue that "HNiC" doesn't need a gimmick either. Canada's oldest TV series—it's in its 59th season—is having a big year in the ratings, hitting a high of over 2.5 million viewers for a Leafs-Canucks game earlier this season.
The plan is for Saturday's telecast is to leave "Coach's Corner" in good old fashioned two-dimension, so for those few Canadians who actually have 3D sets, don't worry about Grapes' signature "thumbs up" gesture starts comin' atcha Saturday night.
As MacLean jokes: "Don's not ready to suffer 'dimensia'—yet."
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.