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Legendary US film critic Roger Ebert is not a fan of 3D. He recently described it as "a waste of a perfectly good dimension". Francis Ford Coppola, director of The Godfather, is of similar mind, branding it "tiresome". But the good folks at Sky take a different view, hoping to turn us into a nation of goggle-wearing geeks with the launch of the first 3D channel on their service.
The launch, on 1 October, has taken on a huge significance, not least for manufacturers of 3D TVs, since they're all desperate for the technology to catch on. So will Sky 3D reinvent TV or is it just a gimmick? We've watched it and this is our verdict.
3D icing on the cake
The good news is that Sky's 3D service works with both(from, erm, LG) and active-shutter sets (from everybody else... and LG). You don't even need any new Sky hardware to watch it. Any box will work. Just connect the satellite receiver to your 3D TV with an HDMI lead, enable channel 217 with a quick call to Sky's service centre, and you'll be away. There isn't even an additional charge, provided you already subscribe to one of Sky's top-tier packages. Sky 3D is just an extra dollop of icing on the cake.
It doesn't take long to realise that Sky 3D isn't actually hi-def. Although it uses the HD platform, the image resolution is effectively half that of a 1080p channel. This is because Sky uses a 'side-by-side' broadcasting format. Imagine a single HD frame carrying two near-identical images -- one for the left eye and one for the right. As far as the HD set-top box is concerned, this mess is just another 1080i picture. But, when you engage the 3D mode on your new telly, these two images are geometrically adjusted on top of each other, allowing your 3D glasses to display them as a full-frame 3D image.
Over the past few weeks, we've auditioned Sky 3D on a variety of TVs, including plasma set. When fed the signal from our Sky+HD 1TB box, the Panasonic TV didn't recognise it as a 3D signal. Consequently, we had to manually select the correct viewing mode.
This problem is probably due to the fact that no Sky box is equipped with an HDMI 1.4 output. It's this iteration of the HDMI spec that carries all the control codes that lock the 3D source to the screen. Had the signal come from a 3D Blu-ray player, the Panasonic telly would have known what to do with it.
Frogs look better than footie
Given Sky 3D's resolution, we feared that images might look overly soft. But this isn't the case. The picture clarity is akin to that of a decent DVD. This is most evident in the case of Sky's 3D football footage. Although the beautiful game itself doesn't really benefit at all from the stereoscopic process, crowd scenes gain genuine depth -- it really is like looking through a window. The detail is good enough so that you can pick out faces in the crowd.