Giz Explains: Watching the World Cup in 3D

The problem with 3DTV, as we've said, is that there normally isn't a damn thing to watch. But the World Cup in 3D, that's something to watch.

The World Cup is the perfect spectacle for this kind of mass cultural tech demo: It's global, buzzy, and sports are among the most potent demonstrations of how compelling 3D can be in the living room. When Panasonic was showing off its 3D system at CEDIA last fall, the most compelling footage wasn't Avatar; it was the Olympics.

Can I Really Watch the World Cup in 3D? On TV? What Channel?

In the US, you'll be able to the watch it on ESPN 3D, which is broadcasting all 25 of the 3D games. The trick is whether or not you have you a cable company that carries ESPN 3D—the main options here are Comcast, DirecTV (you'll need a 21 series or higher box) and AT&T, who'll start delivering ESPN 3D just in time. (Sorry Verizon customers.)

What makes the World Cup a poor international coming out party for 3DTV is that it's simply going to be hard to catch a game for most people. Broadcasting in 3D is like, hard. Each eyeball needs its own signal, so 3DTV requires double the bandwidth of a standard channel, and there's not a totally established standard for broadcasting it. (Update: Our friend at HD Guru, Gary Merson, points out the World Cup is in side-by-side 3D, so it takes up the same amount of bandwidth as a regular HD signal, though it is in 1080i). So, besides ESPN 3D in the US, Spain's Sogecable, Japan's Sky PerfecTV and Korea's SBS are the only networks confirmed to broadcast the games in 3D.

People in the other 26 countries getting the World Cup 3D, like the UK, will have to stroll to movie theaters and other designated locations to catch the game (though it should make the fights far more interesting). FIFA isn't expecting a huge 3D turnout, consequently. Its director of TV, Niclas Ericson hopes "it will be at least a few hundred thousand per match." That's out of the more than 27 billion total viewers FIFA is expecting.

Which Games Are Broadcast in 3D?

Sony is filming 25 of the 64 matches in three dimensions, focusing on games featuring Brazil, Germany, Italy, Spain and the US, leading up to the finals, all of which will be broadcast in 3D. Here's the full schedule:

June 11th - South Africa vs. Mexico
June 12th - Argentina vs. Nigeria
June 13th - Germany vs. Australia
June 14th - Netherlands vs. Denmark
June 15th - Brazil vs. North Korea
June 16th - Spain vs. Switzerland
June 17th - Argentina vs. South Korea
June 18th - Slovenia vs. USA
June 19th - Netherlands vs. Japan
June 20th - Brazil vs. Ivory Coast
June 21st - Spain vs. Honduras
June 22nd - Nigeria vs. South Korea
June 23rd - Ghana vs. Germany
June 24th - Slovakia vs. Italy
June 25th - Portugal vs. Brazil
June 27th - Winners of Group B vs. Runner up in Group A
June 28th - Winners of Group E vs. Runner up in Group F
June 28th - Winners of Group G vs. Runner up in Group H
July 2nd - Quarter final
July 3rd - Quarter final
July 3rd - Quarter final
July 6th - Semi final
July 7th - Semi final
July 10th - 3rd place play-off
July 11th - World Cup final

What Kind of Gear Do I Need?

Of course, you'll need a Three Dee Tee Vee, too, and a set of glasses for everybody you're inviting to your party. Amazon's got a splashy 3D 101 section, populated entirely by Samsung TVs. The cheapest set, 58-inch plasma 3D set is over $2000. Your best bet, if you're not interested solely in ease of acquisition and cheapness, is likely Panasonic's TC-P50VT20, which beat out Samsung's equivalent 3DTV. (Sony's 3DTVs are finally hitting the shelves this week, as well, but be warned, it's merely "3D ready," and you have to buy the 3D receiver separately.)

Each pair of cheap glasses, required for everybody who wants to be sucked into the game? $130 on Amazon. Some sets come with glasses; some don't. If you pick up a TV without glasses and want to host four people, you need $520 in headgear, on top of the set that'll run you a minimum of $1500, so you're looking at 2 grand easy.

Bottom line, to watch the World Cup in 3D, you need the right mix of circumstance and money: the right place, the right time, with the right gear. But if anything's worth making the effort to watch in 3D, this might be it. Or you can always wait until the World Cup comes to Japan in 2022, with full-blown holograms. God bless you, Japan.