Tennis isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really my thing anymore, but it used to be. I played in high school and was actually pretty good, going 13-1 in doubles my senior year, the one loss coming in an untimely fashion in the State Finals. Basketball and running, each requiring less advance preparation, took tennisÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ place in college, but I never lost my affinity for the sport.
So when I was invited by Sony to check out their presentation of the Wimbledon Finals in 3D at one of 53 movie theaters showing it nationwide, I jumped at the opportunity. I looked forward to watching some high-level tennis, but primarily, I was intrigued to evaluate how a medium IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d only experienced with Avatar would vibe with live sports in a theater setting.
Arriving at Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J., for the WomenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Finals on Saturday, I had to admit I was out of my element. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t find time to go to many movies, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t often sit and watch entire tennis matches, and I generally donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t watch much 3D entertainment.
Not to mention, the whole Ã¢â‚¬Å“Breakfast at WimbledonÃ¢â‚¬Â concept is sort of lost on me; I typically donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wake up until three to four hours past the 9 a.m. start time. I was rebuffed in my fleeting hope that theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d at least have the traditional strawberries and cream at the theater, instead greeted by the familiar and disappointing waft of stale popcorn.
A quick — but necessary — stop at Dunkin Donuts on the way to the theater meant that I arrived with Petra Kvitova holding a 3-2 lead on Maria Sharapova in the first set. I made my way through a silent theater and settled in with 3D glasses and an egg white flatbread.
ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no question 3D technology has come a long way since my first experience with it. I still remember paying a couple bucks at the Orange County Fair about 20 years ago to stand in a muddy tent with flimsy red and blue lenses jammed over my regular glasses, watching blurry black and white footage of cannonballs firing directly at me. I suppose it was effective; I instinctively ducked.
In comparison, the 3D world Sony has cultivated is slick and impressive. The glasses comfortably fit over my own, and the close-up shots of Sharapova and Kvitova backdropped by the crowd were sensational. NBCÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s graphics jumped out into the middle of the theater, stimulating the irresistible but futile urge to reach toward the screen. (I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have been the only one doing that.)
The 3D popped a little less during the actual tennis action, but it still looked clear and sharp. Though the match itself wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the most compelling, the visual lends itself to attracting your attention, coercing you to want to get your moneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worth of 3D. And though I do have surround-sound in my apartment, nothing compares to watching in a theater; SharapovaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s well-chronicled grunts and gasps were ubiquitous and otherworldly.
From an experiential standpoint, I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t say enough about it. Watching in such a fashion transformed a relatively mundane tennis match into a memorable and vivid experience.
The relative quietude of the theater didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t stop me and my companions from inserting some of our own commentary. I mean, how do you not make Sasha Vujacic jokes?
But what halted me from going full-on Mystery Science Theater was the fact that the theater wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t just quiet — it was eerily silent. Nobody said much the entire match, even during particularly exciting points.
I figured a few factors went into this, starting with the setting; weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re conditioned to be quiet once the lights dim at movies, lest someone decides to peg you with Milk Duds or something. The match itself had a surreal quality, feeling more like a movie than a real-life sporting event.
ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also the nature of the sport involved. Tennis isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t particularly raucous, and the womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s game doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have huge star power. Very few people know who Kvitova is, and even the relatively well-known Sharapova isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t exactly a mainstream star anymore. I would have been interested to see if the dynamic changes for Djokavic-Nadal.
And much like when I went to see Avatar, which I did enjoy, I found the 3D experience to be mildly isolating. With the glasses on, further dimming an already darkened theater, I felt a mild disconnect from the people around me due to my fixation on the 3D images in front of me.
I would imagine an impact sport would engender more animated reactions. Closed circuit theaters have long aired wrestling and boxing matches, and still do in some locations — I doubt people sat mute while watching Hulk Hogan slam Andre the Giant at WrestleMania 3.
But it very well could be that adding 3D to the mix truly throws a new wrinkle into how we watch. The viewing experience is so enhanced, I was left wondering if people would be less likely to divert their attention, regardless of sport. I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think so, but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to find out.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been told Sony was very satisfied with how 3D Wimbledon turned out — as well they should be — and that they plan to present more sporting events in that manner. I thought the turnout was very good for the womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s finals I attended, and they have cameras in 60 percent of AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s theaters.
As Kvitova did her victory lap with the Wimbledon trophy, I imagined the possibility of watching a playoff football game with 3D glasses on — but perhaps in a more wide open space, with a buffet and an open bar. People wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be anchored to one spot, and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d think that freedom would offer the best of both worlds: the 3D experience with a party-type atmosphere.
I think a lot of people would be interested in something like that. I know I would, since a sporting event IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not sure I would have enjoyed otherwise became an event in a 3D movie theater. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d love to try watching boxing like this, or the World Cup — or even UFC, which I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really follow.
They have the technology, they have my attention, and they have Wimbledon under their belts. Depending on how far Sony wants to take it, I see a lot of potential here.
For more information on SonyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 3D Wimbledon program, check out their web site.