7 days living with... Sky 3D

Sky 3D launched with great fanfare in October 2010, but 4 months on, what’s the service like to watch at home, is it the future, and should you be rushing out to buy a 3D television and signing up to Sky’s 3D channel? No, we didn't know the answers either, so your editor, Stuart Miles, spent a week living with Sky 3D to find out.

MONDAY

It’s cheeky to admit this, but the start of our 3D week test at Pocket-lint also falls on the same day as a team training session in London and a night out with the team. It’s fair to say that when I eventually get back home I'm the wrong end of a good handful of pints.

Furthermore I should point out, it’s 12:20am when I fire up the telly and turn on Sky channel 217: Sky 3D - technically it's Tuesday, but I'm sure you'll let me get away with it this time.

I’ve come in at the end of The Hole, a pay per view movie currently showing on Sky 3D. Because it’s so late, the film is too near the end for me to actually pay for access. Damn.

Annoyed that my first day of the experiment is going to be a non-starter, I flick over to catch Gamer on Sky Movies (a far better choice for after the pub we think) for 15 minutes until The Hole finishes and we can watch the last bit of content on the Sky 3D channel before the station shuts down for the night.

That’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - a behind the scenes look. For our wait we get to see producer Jerry Bruckheimer being interviewed in 3D.  Does the interview being in 3D add anything to the experience? No, but damn his puffer jacket looks big and three-dimensional. We eventually get the new trailer of the new movie, which is a bit more worthwhile, but probably not worth missing Michael C Hall doing his “I’ve got you under my skin” dance routine in Gamer.

It’s worth pointing out that I’m struggling to focus on the 3D element of the show most likely hindered by the amount of alcohol I’ve drunk, but 3D does require more concentration than just watching a HD movie.

Once it’s over, and Sky 3D has shut down, I flick back to see that Gamer is finished and there isn’t really much on. With no more 3D content to watch I go to bed.

TUESDAY

Tuesday is an evening at home with Mrs Pocket-lint. Here 3D loses out to the first half of the evening and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings on Channel 4 (not in 3D - eek the thought of it). Once that’s over we check the Sky 3D channel to see what’s on.

Tonight’s 3D spectacular is 35mm - 3D Special, a series of movie trailers of films coming out at the cinema in the next couple of months, followed by another chance to see The Hole.

After watching a bevy of movie trailers for stuff not coming to the TV station any time soon, Mrs Pocket-lint heads off to bed while I set in for a session of “family horror” as the info on the movie describes it.

The Hole, as a movie, is a strange one. The Sky EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) states it’s a family horror that’s rated 12. As you can imagine a horror movie that’s a 12 isn’t going to be that scary. And the 3D isn’t really used to that greater effect either.

As with most 3D films I’ve watched, it’s all about adding depth to the experience, although Dante (the film’s director) has fallen for 3D gimmicks, with the odd thing coming out at you.

For me it’s where 3D doesn’t work as you’re eyes struggle to cope with the fast moving objects as they come towards you. I’ve found that it’s okay if you’ve got something in the foreground to begin with, but nails heading your way or an axe, no thank you.

By 12:30am it’s another late night and I can’t be bothered to watch more trailers and junk about Pirates of the Caribbean again, so I head to bed.

WEDNESDAY

Rather than wait for the end of the evening to watch some 3D television I start at the beginning. 7pm and I’m in front of the TV watching a boxing match.

That’s great, and it fulfils our sports content for the week, but the downside is that it's the Haye versus Harrison match from November 2010 where (and sorry to spoil this) Haye wins in the third round.

In the 20 minutes of pre-amble, and the fight itself, there’s a chance to see how the 3D action performs. Most of the shots, when from afar, work really well with plenty of depth and a nice sense of relationship with the crowd.

However, there are plenty of close up shots that just don’t work, with ghosting becoming an issue and the 3D lost in the action. It’s a shame as it ruins the experience and I'm not sure whether this is because at the time (it was one, if not the first, boxing match in 3D) that the film crews weren’t used to filming in 3D, or it’s just an inherent problems with the format. 

With such a quick victory for Haye, I’m left with the choice of either waiting 30 minutes for Bugs! (another repeat) or catching Avatar, which I Sky Plus-ed from Christmas.

Avatar and the Na-vi wins. Avatar is deemed by many as the benchmark movie for 3D viewing and even in the home it’s clear that this film is impressive when it comes to 3D. Cameron’s use of the 3D plain and landscape is stunning with plenty of depth to the picture rather than using 3D as a gimmick to throw things out of the screen like “The Hole”, for example.

Agreed, the storyline isn’t the best in the world, but in my mind that gives you plenty of reason to focus on the rest of the detail on the screen.

It’s the little things after all that make this movie just stunning on the graphics CGI side of things.

One such example is the use of the video diary in the medical centre with its different levels (the video data, Jake Sully, and the background) and then of course all the magical creatures and scenery Pandora has to offer.

Some 3 hours later I'm done and it's clear that this is where the success of 3D will be - event TV.

It’s watching the big movies that will make 3D a valid format rather than everyday television where you’ll watch an episode of EastEnders while talking about your day job to your partner.

THURSDAY

On Thursday Mrs Pocket-lint and myself are out at friends, they don’t have Sky 3D so we weren’t able to watch it. Even if they did, chances are that they wouldn't have enough glasses (you need special glasses for an active 3D television) to go around the six friends.

Sky 3D misses out completely even when we get home.

FRIDAY

One of the biggest problems at the moment with Sky 3D is that watching it solid for a week means that you have to be prepared to see repeats and lots of them. It means that while there is some content to pick out you’ve got to be nimble with your planning and check in each week to the EPG (Electronic Programming Guide) to see what’s coming up so you can get the best of the new service.

As the content grows there will be more to watch.

Friday night in front of our LG 3D TV (LX9900) is a night watching Monsters Versus Aliens which, I have to admit, I’ve seen before in 3D already.

Still, while the film is average, it’s another chance to check out the 3D footage, and wow at the moment the big alien robot takes down the Golden Gate Bridge.

We turn over to some real telly, but had we stayed on channel 217 we could have watched a re-run of the “exciting 3D films hitting cinema screens soon”, which is basically trailers for films like Rio (the one about the birds) and Gnomeo and Juliet (an animation about two gnomes that fall in love, no really).

And then following that, a repeat of a behind the scenes look at Tron (sparkly but lacking any real information) and then, yes you guessed it, more of the same behind the scenes footage of Pirates of the Caribbean: Tides gone out, or whatever it’s going to be called, in 3D.

SATURDAY

We are almost at the end of our 3D week. Having watched Toy Story on Disney Cinematic (not in 3D) with the kids, we switch over to find that Toy Story 2 is on in 3D. Amazing. Trouble is, we’ve only got two 3D glasses in the house and there are four of us. Couple that with the fact that my children are both under five and the idea of wearing big glasses for almost 2 hours isn’t going to cut it.

We press the record button, and quickly switch over to Handy Mandy (not in 3D - crisis averted) before heading out for a quick walk to wear the little ones out.

Opting to press record turns out to be a wise move as tonight’s 3D viewing is more boxing.

“Light-Heavyweights II from Olympia in London,” reads the info box before telling us there is a plethora of fights between: “Dodson, Dickinson, Davies, Edwards, Slate, Banbula, Smyth and Morris are all fighting for the coveted trophy.”

Sounds great, but not my cup of tea and not the way I fancy spending Saturday night. Toy Story 2 goes on, a glass of wine is poured and I settle in with Mrs Pocket-lint for a night of Buzz Lightyear and Woody. High-brow indeed.

SUNDAY

It’s all about dance for our Sunday night it seems and that means Diversity Live: Diversitoys, followed by Dance Dance Dance whereby Ariene Philips presents six performances from renowned dance groups. Featuring the English National Ballet, The Sapnay Dance Company and Wayne Eagling’s prelude to a Giselle.

The subject matter isn’t really our cup of tea, even though we’ve just seen Black Swan and enjoyed it, but it is still impressive.

The 3D works well here showing depth to the dancers and the moves.  

Feeling lazy we put together our final test - watching 3D while eating dinner on the sofa, it’s an interesting experiment and one that while slightly difficult at first (it’s like eating with sunglasses on) is not the end of the world and my shirt escapes unharmed.

Conclusions

Forcing ourselves to watch a week of 3D has proved a number of things. The main thing we’ve learnt is that 3D TV is all about event TV. It’s about planning ahead to make sure you record what you want to watch.

Doing that means you’ll get a really good experience out of Sky 3D and means that you’ll have plenty to enjoy when you feel the urge to watch it. Leaving to chance means you’re likely to see repeats.

Yes, that’s the other major thing we’ve noticed. There are lots of repeats. Sky has promised 14 hours of 3D content every day, but that’s a hard tally to meet and it shows. Replaying a boxing match that lasts 3 rounds and was fought back in November shows us exactly that, and looking through the programme guide it was on a couple of times in our test week at least.

So what about the 3D experience itself? Again, this comes back to the event TV element. Coming back from the pub we found it hard to watch, likewise when Mrs Pocket-lint wanted to talk and watch television, that was hard too.

However, when we turned the lights down, got a movie (that was good) on the screen, and some popcorn by our side, 3D added a great deal of depth to the picture. Like having a subwoofer, it’s something that you don’t need, something that you sometimes don’t notice, but we found did enrich the experience overall when the content maker got it right.

But like anything, if the movie, or documentary, or sport, or interview isn’t interesting, or isn’t that good, then 3D isn’t going to make it any better. 3D is just another tool in the storyteller’s arsenal, rather than the story.

For that reason 3D will still play a part in my weekly TV viewing, but only after I’ve picked and chosen the content I’m interested in at the beginning of the week, rather than leaving it to chance. It's definitely a good thing, but only for a relatively small amount of time.

First Look: Sky 3D review

Are you living with Sky 3D? Does this sound like your experience of it? And is there any technology you'd like us to spend a week with and write about? Let us know in the comments.