Formula 1 global partner LG Electronics has made a big effort in the last few years to try out new technology in the coverage of the sport. At the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix, the company used HD cameras to capture footage of the weekend, which was then used for its own promotional material. In Canada this year it evaluated 3D cameras, which will again be broadcast on its televisions in electronics retail stores around the world starting next year.
After showing off that 3D footage in Abu Dhabi last weekend, LG's vice president of marketing and global sponsorship Andrew Barrett told how well he thinks F1 works in 3D, what the future is for television coverage and how hopeful he is of an HD switch for 2011.
Q. You showed the media in Abu Dhabi last weekend some of the 3D footage that you produced at the Canadian Grand Prix. What was your verdict on it?
Andrew Barrett: If you look at Montreal in 3D, and then you watch the other 3D content that is available at the moment, Formula 1 has got a way to go before it is going to be perfect as an amazing experience. But you can already start to see the seeds of the idea coming to life. What we see is the close-up stuff and slow motion standing up well – and when you have got shots in the garages and the pitlane it is stunning.
The race experience itself doesn't really change so much, though, because the cars go so fast that the technology and our eyes can barely see it live, let alone see it in 3D. So I think there is a way to go in that area.
Q. Is it a technological limitation at the moment, or is it that the sport is just too quick for it?
AB: From what I have seen so far, the sport has limitations for it to be really optimized in 3D. For example, when you see an on-board camera lap in 3D, that camera is a fixed length – the drivers' hands don't change distance, the front of the car doesn't change distance, so you don't really get a very good 3D experience because there is not a lot of change in terms of depth of field.
We also see on many of the tracks that we are shooting the cars from far away. The tracks are kept quite sterile and clean for the safety of the drivers, so there are not a lot of objects to get between you, the cars and the camera to give you that depth of field. So I think a lot of it is the nature of the sport.
Now, there will be some tracks where I think it can really work. Places like Monaco, where you have got so much color, buildings, backgrounds and the movement of people, water and trees – I think a place like that could make it spectacular. But most grand prix circuits, they are not built for a 3D experience.
Q. Which parts of the Canadian footage you shot did you think had turned out better than you expected?
AB: The garage stuff is amazing. I have had the chance to stand at the front of a Red Bull Racing garage and a Lotus garage, and look back into it as the activity is going on. It is a three-dimensional, very busy world.
When you see it on normal television, it is flat and we don't really see what is going on at the back. When you see the in-garage footage on 3D, you see the entire depth of the garage, you see people passing back and forth. You never could imagine how much activity there was.
I always knew that when the cars came out of the garage you would see their noses coming at the screen, and when they come in for a pit stop you feel they are coming at you, but I think the most impressive stuff was the garage footage.
Q. So what makes 3D best is quite a cluttered environment, then?
AB: You need the item your eyes want to focus on to have something in front of it and something behind it, so you get that sense of depth. That is what makes incredibly great 3D. If you are missing one of those three layers and your subject matter is not in the middle of those, then it is harder to see.
Q. So where is LG at now in terms of pushing on with HD and 3D?
AB: For an HD perspective, it is pretty much done. About 90 percent of the televisions that we sell today are full HD, which is capable of 1080P. So almost anyone buying an HD television over the last couple of years is fully HD-ready. So that one is kind of done.
3D is the next evolution. We have launched the active 3D version, where the glasses work to create the 3D effect. That is the first version of 3D. There are now two more steps to go. This starts it, while the next big step will be going to passive where the glasses are like the ones we use in the movie theaters today.
We already have home theater projection systems that can produce 120-inch screens that you can watch with glasses that are worth about a $1.50 each. That is quickly coming – and that is where I think it will quickly break into the home if the content can be ready. The panels will be ready, and the projectors will be ready, for passive.
But the holy grail is doing it without glasses. That can actually be done today, and I've had a 3D monitor, for about two or three years now, that is capable of doing 3D without glasses; but it is pretty expensive and pretty complex to make it en masse. The big step is passive next year.
Q. So in terms of F1 coverage, HD looks like it is coming either next year or the year after...
AB: Not wanting to speak for Bernie [Ecclestone], but we all know that the sooner the better. The consumers have bought the panels, we've all seen the HD footage and it is demonstrably better than standard definition. The fan will understand that in a moment and every fan can have it – as they almost all have the HD televisions in their house. It cannot come fast enough and I hope it is next year.
3D, though, is a long way off, and I don't think it will even be the year after that. If it was my decision, I would not put it in 3D until there were enough televisions and enough consumers out there watching it to warrant the investment and the change. But HD we all need now.
Q. Are you planning on doing any more HD or 3D filming like you have done so far?
AB: It will depend. We did the HD tests and we did the 3D tests. I am hopeful that next year we get all our race footage in HD and then we will not need to do any more tests. That was done in 2009. We saw the benefits of that and FOM [Formula One Management] has learned a lot about it.
My hope is that next year I will be able to get all my regular footage in HD. If not, then we will probably go and reshoot something a bit more contemporary, but I hope to not have to do that.
Q. Fans at home can see the HD footage in their local electronics stores, but what about the 3D footage?
AB: We will be doing the same thing. The premiere of the 3D footage was in the Abu Dhabi paddock. It was finished 72 hours before the weekend, so we hope to get this out into the stores in 2011. We would normally put new content out at the start of the F1 season, so around March, which is when our new models will hit the stores.