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Wimbledon: The 3D experience reviewed

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Originally published on: 01/07/11 15:29

The Championships are never particularly friendly to those a little light in the pocket, but generally you’re safe from premium pricing outside the grounds of the All England Club. That’s why I’ll admit to balking at the cost of a ticket for the debut screening of the world’s greatest tennis tournament in 3D. A whopping 18 smackers (including a £1 fee for those attractive 3D specs if you don’t already own a pair) earns you a spot on a plush Odeon armchair in the dark. For the same sum, you could have paid for a ground pass into the All England Club, topped up your tan, picked up half a glass of pimms and watched the match on the big screen. But let’s not dwell on that. Cost is a sideshow here. It’s the experience that counts so let’s cut to the action.

Barely 15 people had taken a seat within the Odeon’s sparsely populated Screen 12 when I turned up for the start of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s semi-final clash with Novak Djokovic. Sport within the confines of a cinema, particularly tennis – where fans often admit to wavering interest during lengthy matches – was always going to be something of a pilot project in terms of pulling in the numbers. Perhaps 3D tennis would appeal to real hardy tennis fans, to those caught up in the Wimbledon buzz, or maybe it’s one for the general public simply intrigued by new technology. As I walked in, I spotted youngsters up the top and an elderly woman occupying a seat closer to the front, but the varying demographic proved united in their transfixed interest in the moving images leaping out from the big screen.

The camera angles are the first obvious difference to the visual coverage we’re so used to. Tipped at a slight angle, the main camera is positioned directly behind the player at one end of the court, far lower than you are accustomed when watching televised tennis in its traditional form. It’s a compelling view. You can see the arc of the ball as it rears down into court, observe the ripping spin directly from the racket, and spot the directional shift of second serves and the way the reciever has to adjust when the ball kicks off the surface.

The detail is phenomenal. It’s easier to follow the play – you can see which balls are going to land in, and which are drifting out. Better yet, the technology makes everyone an armchair expert. On several occasions, Tsonga careered towards the net after short approach shots and immediately you could see, in those instances, it was the wrong choice of play. Accentuated by the technology, the gaps and angles either side of the players are more obvious than before – you could read a Djokovic passing shot almost before it had been hit.

“It’s certainly a thrill to be watching this in 3D,” says former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash while we watch, and it is. You feel more involved, the score and logos – provided by IBM – leap out at you, as does the energetic Tsonga – probably the best player to watch in 3D thanks to his frequent dives across the grass and larger than life personality. At one point, the Frenchman and Serb traded diving volleys at the net, and when the quick-handed Tsonga prevailed, those in the cinema erupted with a cheer and followed with – quintessential of Wimbledon – a hearty round of applause.

Even so, the minus points are pretty evident and struck me the moment I walked through the doors of Screen 12. You’re sitting in the dark watching everyone else bask in the sun for starters, and it almost feels like you’re peeking through a letter-box at the action in those surroundings. The screen feels quite small too, and you can’t help but feel you should instead be sat in an I-Max with the action enveloping you. On the flip-side, the standard cinema screen creates an intriguing view. You could almost be a camera-man shielding under a blanket on court, perched right next to the line judges as the players do battle centimetres from your very toes.

What isn’t a doubt is that this is an experience very much worth sampling. Every pilot needs its fixes, but given the thrill provided in allowing you to track the flight of the ball like never before, you can’t help but sense that this is a glimpse of the future.

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