LAS VEGAS, Jan. 9, 2008 -- Thousands of football fans who couldn't make it to Miami's Dolphin Stadium Thursday night for college football's Bowl Championship Series game still managed to score seats with a ground-level view -- a virtual one.
In a first major test of the technology, Fox Sports broadcast the game live in 3-D to 82 movie theaters in 30 states. For $20 to $25, depending on the theater, fans could sport a pair of plastic glasses and watch the Gators-Sooners game in three dimensions.
But sports fans and novelty-seekers flocking to theaters for this unprecedented broadcast weren't the only ones "tuning in" to Thursday night's game, which Oklahoma lost to Florida, 24-14.
At this year's annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where several companies are showcasing 3-D home televisions, industry watchers are buzzing that 3-D technology is the next digital frontier.
Reaction to this broadcast could be an indicator of the technology's commercial viability.
Replicating the Stadium Feel
"It felt like I was on the field," said Aaron Coldiron, 34, who watched the game from a Rave Motion Picture Theater in Las Vegas.
He said that surround sound even added to the sensation of being encased by crowds in a stadium.
Decked out in maroon-and-orange fan gear, a full audience at the Rave donned the updated, but still unmistakable, 3-D glasses with polarized lenses to watch the game unfold. To mirror the stadium experience, the theater had servers travel the room selling beer and snacks.
Brendan Berglund, 19, an art institute student, was impressed.
Though he said he'd still prefer a real game to 3-D version, he added that it was worth the $25 and a great experience.
"I'd definitely do it again," he said.
As they left the theater, the 3-D "guinea pigs" for the night told ABCNews.com that although a few glitches made it clear that the technology is still in development, they looked forward to more 3-D programming.
Sports fans in Las Vegas not watching from the theater said they were blown away by news of the 3-D broadcast.
The 'Team 3-D'
"It was mind-boggling when high definition was just beginning," Rob Wilt, 44, a Sooners fan from Pittsburgh, told ABCNews.com. "Now that it's real, it would be unbelievable if this takes off."
While fans cheered for their respective teams, executives at the Burbank, Calif.-based 3ality Digital said they were rooting for "team 3-D."
3ality is one of the major innovators behind Thursday night's broadcast. Its camera crew, which matches people with experience shooting sporting events with those comfortable shooting in three dimensions, shot the game with Sony cameras and 3ality's 3-D image capture and processing technology provided edits, transitions and graphics.
In addition to partnering with Fox Sports and Sony, 3ality worked with Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp. to distribute the game to the theaters via satellite.
The Beverly Hills, Calif.-based RealD supplied the black-rimmed plastic glasses with gray polarized lenses and equips theaters with 3-D technology. According to 3ality, RealD's technology has attracted more than 90 percent of the global market for 3-D cinema, with more than 5,500 screens around the world committed to installing RealD's technology.
Next to the Action
"Your proximity is the sideline. You think you are there standing next to the action vs. being in the last row of the upper deck," said David Modell, 3ality's chairman of the board and former president and CEO of the Baltimore Ravens.
On Dec. 4, 3ality, its partners and the National Football League led the very first, although significantly smaller in scale, 3-D broadcasting test when they live broadcast the game between the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders.
The strong response to that game encouraged them to expand their scope with Thursday's broadcast. In a testament to the success of the Dec. 4 broadcast, executives said the San Diego theaters broadcasting the BCS game sold out nearly instantaneously.
"[Attendees] said they never understood the strategy of the game until they saw it in 3-D," said Sandy Climan, 3ality Digital's CEO. "The physicality of the players takes on an entirely different sensation, emotion."
10 Years to Get 3-D Right
Climan said 3ality's technology, which was 10 years in the making, gives viewers an unparalleled immersive and emotional experience.
But, he said, the company is still tweaking and learning from each broadcast.
"In 2-D, the announcers, all of those other aspects of the broadcast have their own complexion," Climan said. "In 3-D, we're re-architecting all of those elements because the audience has a different sense of immersiveness in being there."
In 2-D, for example, you'd quickly cut between different camera angles and shots to keep the audience engaged with the action. But in 3-D, because the sense of immersiveness is so much higher, quick cutting isn't as necessary and could be distracting, he said.
With each experience, Climan said, his team is learning how to shoot better, how to choose shots and how to move from one shot to the next.
Although 3ality is focusing on football now, it plans to expand globally into other sports, concerts and alternative programming, such as Broadway musicals.
And it is hardly the only one trying to figure out how to capitalize on emerging 3-D technology.
The Next Revolution in Video and Film
At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, Sony, Samsung and Panasonic are all showing concept televisions that would bring 3-D viewing capabilities to the home.
Dreamworks' Jeffrey Katzenberg was on site Thursday, as well, talking about the release of his 3-D animated feature film "Monsters vs. Aliens," created with Intel's InTru 3-D technology.
Katzenberg's first foray into 3-D entertainment was more than 20 years ago, he said, when he worked on the Disney theme park attraction Captain Eo.
But, he said, technology, especially advances in digital technology that have emerged in the last 18 months, has dramatically changed the theme park experience that he calls "my father's 3-D."
"This technology that exists today is allowing us to capture and create images in 3-D that have this extra immersive feeling; it's not just about physical dimensionality, it's about the emotional dimensionality," he said.
Katzenberg on 3-D
The revolutions in the 1920s and 1930s that transformed film from silent to sound and then black and white to color enhanced the ability of storytellers to bring audiences into their films. The move to 3-D is the next step in this progression, Katzenberg said.
"In the same way those first two revolutionary events changed the experience of video and film, I believe that 3-D, over the next 10 or 15 or 20 years, will completely transform how we relate to video images in every facet of our lives," Katzenberg said.
The transition will start in movie theaters but will move down to every place that we watch video, he said, from televisions to hand-held devices.
"It's the natural thing to happen," he said.