Jim Ralph played in an era when people still had black-and-white televisions with picture quality that was controlled by rabbit ears. But that didn’t keep the sharp-witted radio color analyst for the Toronto Maple Leafs from wholeheartedly embracing the experiment of three-dimensional televised hockey.
After the Maple Leafs took a 2-0 first period lead in the first-ever 3D NHL game, Ralph quipped, “Hey, the Leafs are up 6-0 in the 3D game.”
So perhaps CBC is onto something here. After all, anything that improves the fortunes of the Maple Leafs that much might be worth all the trouble. Of course, the only problem is Phil Kessel still looks very much like a dog in 3D and there’s not a technology in the world short of a time machine that’s going to get those first round draft picks back.
After watching a period of the first 3D game from the bowels of the Air Canada Centre Saturday night, this corner has a free piece of advice for all the viewers out there. And that is if you’re about to drop $2,000 for a new three-dimensional television and another $75 on the glasses for the sole purpose of enhancing your hockey watching experience, you might want to wait until those prices come down and the NHL and its broadcasters get a better grip on the technology.
Or as Ralph also said, “the only people who can afford a 3D TV and the glasses are season ticket holders and they’re all here.”
Truth be told, the experience of watching hockey on 3D television is underwhelming. For now. Those looking for slapshots from the blueline to be coming out of their television screens and scrums in the corner to look as though they’re taking place in your lap will be hugely disappointed.
And so will the broadcasters unless the league allows them more favorable camera positions for 3D broadcasts. For a usual Saturday night game in two dimensions, Hockey Night in Canada has 15 cameras in the building. When it came to 3D, there were only four of them. And there’s a good reason for that. Each of those cameras is going to set them back about $350,000. And that did not include the broadcast truck CBC had to strip down and rebuild for the experiment. (The cost was shared by Panasonic and the satellite distributors, without whom there’s no way the CBC would have been able to do it.)
Those cameras were much lower than the ones you would usually see, but the quality still left the viewer wanting. It was a novel experience that was mildly entertaining, but it was not the in-arena experience everyone was seeking. The graphics popped off the screen quite nicely and most of the faceoffs looked as though you had just opened a pop-up book, but that was about it.
The downside was first the darkness and second the stanchions that separate the glass behind the net. Every time one of those things got into the picture, I began feeling a little nauseous. Don Cherry’s jackets are just as garish and his insights are every bit as primitive and without depth.
“The biggest issue is the camera locations,” acknowledged HNIC director of production Joel Darling. “Perhaps the glass behind the net is going to have to be wider to accommodate it.”
Adam Acone, the NHL’s vice-president broadcasting and programming, also acknowledged that sports leagues have a way to go to catch up with the film industry when it comes to 3D, but also points out that the NHL was one of the first on board with high definition, something that has developed into an enormous success.
Aside from Saturday night’s game, Comcast will televise the Winter Classic in 3D and CBC will pick up the feed in Canada. Conversely, CBC will pick up the Heritage Classic between the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames Feb. 20, which will be televised in 3D and will be picked up for American distribution by the NHL network.
Another reason why you might not want to put too much of an investment into 3D for hockey is that the league really doesn’t have a sense of where it will be going at this point. Acone said the league is undecided whether one game a week will ultimately be in 3D or whether it will just be used for special occasions. And the two outdoor games, which should provide more room and better camera angles, are the only others planned for this season.
“At this point, that’s all,” Acone said. “But things are ever changing with technology these days.”
STILL WAITING FOR THE NHLPA
The most extended coronation in world history could be completed sometime this week when Don Fehr is named the new executive director of the NHL Players’ Association.
One source said the league-wide voting is expected to be completed by Tuesday and an announcement could come by next Saturday. But the NHLPA was expecting the process to be completed by now, so there are no guarantees.
What is holding up the process? One source said there has been some pushback from the membership over Fehr’s salary and the fact that he was such a large part of the search and rewrote the association’s constitution. It is not, however, even close to enough to derail the process.
There is also speculation that one of Fehr’s first hires will be former NHLer Mathieu Schneider.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.