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Earlier this year, Panasonic and NBC announced they would team up to produce over 200 hours of 3D programming from the 2012 London Olympics. Those 200+ hours would include gymnastics, track and field events, swimming, and the opening and closing ceremonies.

Apparently what they didn’t mention was that half of the 200+ hours would include annoying pop-up commercials for the 3D Blu-ray release of “The Lorax.” (OK, I’m exaggerating there, but it certainly seems that way!)

My wife and I chose to tune in from time to time on local Comcast channel 981, which is carrying the side-by-side (frame-compatible) 3D coverage. We’ve been watching on a Samsung UN46ES7500 46-inch LCD TV, which uses active shutter glasses that you actually snap together yourself, and are very light.

The 2012 3D coverage brought back a feeling of déjà vu. Ten years ago, NBC took its first stab at HD Olympics coverage with a ‘Scotch tape and paper clips’ broadcast of the 2002 Salt Lake City winter Olympics, in partnership with Mark Cuban’s HDNet TV network.

Those broadcasts were notable for their lack of annoying announcers who felt a constant need to fill dead air with vacuous analysis and predictions, along with an endless parade of ‘up close and personal’ back stories that NBC has become noted for.

Instead, we got the ‘B’ team of announcers, who more often than not didn’t say much of anything – they just let the hockey, ice skating, ski jumping, and other events unfold as they would in the arena. The pictures were spectacular (including the fly-overs of the Wasatch Range) and the coverage made for an enjoyable time – even if the events were delayed by 24 hours or more.

This year’s 3D broadcast has the same feel. During the synchronized and individual diving events, the unnamed announcers were content to just remain silent and occasionally provide commentary on a specific dive. No back stories, no ‘feel good’ pieces – just basic coverage.

Ditto the gymnastics events we’ve watched so far.  The 2D finals coverage of the women’s vault were full of mindless chatter as the broadcast team tried to build up a false tension (“Will McKayla Maroney make her last vault and hold off the Romanians?”). Too bad we already knew the outcome from browsing the Web.

But the 3D coverage was more understated. No foreboding commentary, no close-up shots of the young girls on the point of tears, no excessive ‘homering’ for the United States team. Just documentary-style coverage with short, concise observations and analyses of each contestant’s vault attempt.

I have almost thrown my remote control at the TV on more than one occasion. The aforementioned “Lorax” ad runs as often as every 3 minutes and 50 seconds. (Yes, I timed the intervals with a stopwatch!) To be fair, there is no outside advertising on the 3D channel, other than for (a) upcoming fall NBC TV shows like Revolution, (b) upcoming Universal 3D movies like “Frankenweenie,” and (c) releases of older Universal movies like “Jaws” on Blu-ray.

Panasonic also runs a ‘house’ ad promoting their 3D coverage, which is pretty clever the first time you see it, but begins to get tiresome after the fourth or fifth viewing. And there is a nice 3D opening with shots of London and a mintage of older Olympics coverage from Beijing that runs before each switch back to 3D event coverage. But you eventually get bored with that, too.

I understand the need for the house ads. After all, Comcast owns NBC and Universal. But the “Lorax” pop-up ad has actually obscured my view of Olympics competitors at times, particularly during the diving competition. The ad takes about 10 seconds to run and blocks the bottom 15% of the screen. What’s worse; the pop-up “Lorax” ad was followed on several occasions by a full-length commercial for the same movie on Blu-ray! Ka-ka!

The net effect of all this is to induce viewing fatigue in short order. Diving was OK in 3D, but gymnastics was much better as the cameras can get very close to the pommel horse, vault, high bars, and tumbling mat. It’s pretty cool to see these young women hurtling at you with a look of absolute determination on their faces, and you expect them to literally spring right out of the TV.

Still, after about 30 minutes to an hour of stereoscopic viewing, we’re ready to ditch the glasses and switch back to the normal 2D coverage. If nothing else, we’ll see more of a variety of commercials between events, even if we have to listen to NBC’s annoying announcers. (Memo to Rowdy Gaines: Put a cork in it, please!)

In summary; while it is impressive to watch Usain Bolt run a 9.63 100-meter dash in 3D, it’s no less impressive to see him accomplish the same thing in 2D – and less of a chore to watch. (Best of all, there’s no annoying Lorax!)

Posted by Pete Putman, August 6, 2012 2:51 PM

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About Pete Putman

Peter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.

Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.