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CBC to test 3D broadcasting with doc on Queen

Queen Elizabeth II greets the crowd gathered outside Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday July 6, 2010 as she ends her nine-day visit to Canada.

The Canadian Press/Chris Young

With help from the Queen, the CBC is jumping ahead in the 3D race.

The public broadcaster has announced that it will show Queen Elizabeth in 3D on Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. ET.

The CBC is touting the project as the first 3D television broadcast to be shot and produced in Canada and transmitted nationally.

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"It was sort of an unspoken competition in the industry, who could make the first Canadian broadcast in 3D, of Canadian material," Mark Starowicz, CBC's executive director of documentary programming, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

"So we're pretty happy. We got the brass ring."

A 3D crew followed the monarch during her June visit to Canada to gather material for the film. That footage will be featured alongside archival colour 3D footage from 1953 and new material shot at Buckingham Palace.

A special TV won't be necessary to view the program in 3D, but viewers will need to pick up 3D glasses to experience the effects. Two million free pairs will be available at Canada Post in early September on a first-come, first-served basis.

"They're not the ones you can get in the dollar store," Starowicz said, though he added that they were the "inexpensive" cardboard sort.

The Queen might seem an unlikely subject for 3D, a burgeoning technology that is still typically used to highlight explosion-packed action flicks, panoramic nature footage and high octane sports clips, rather than more serene shots of visiting royalty.

But the discovery of what Starowicz calls "mind-boggling" 3D footage of the Queen captured at the coronation parade in 1953 combined with the monarch's June visit to Canada made for a "terrific parallel."

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"Royal films attract an awful lot of Canadians," Starowicz said. "We thought the 3D would bring the young viewers, and the Queen would bring us more traditional viewers, so that's why we thought it would be the perfect project."

Starowicz points to certain scenes that use 3D to special effect -- the Queen's visit to Ottawa on Canada Day and to Toronto for the Queen's Plate horse race, as well as archival 3D footage of the monarch boarding a boat on the Thames River as she's being saluted by the Yeomen of the Guard.

Although Starowicz would not say how much the project cost, he estimated it was roughly 30 per cent more expensive than it would have been without the 3D effects. Funding came from the CBC and corporate sponsors.

Starowicz said the experiment was a meaningful one for the network.

"What's important for us is we don't want to be left behind," he said. "Pretty soon you're not really going to be able to participate in a world co-production or sell (a project) internationally unless it was shot in 3D."

"We had to learn and try to remain competitive and that was the overall objective of The Queen in 3D."

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The network ran test footage unannounced at midnight ET Wednesday morning. The clips showed the Queen reviewing the Canadian naval fleet in Halifax, as well as attending Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa and the Queen's Plate in Toronto, all in 3D.

Select test viewers scattered across the country were armed with 3D glasses for the test run and, according to the network, early reports were positive.

CBC released a comment from Jo-Anne Cameron of Spruce Grove, Alta., who said: "The Mounties really jumped out of the screen in 3D."

"Being able to see the Queen in a completely new way was amazing," she added. "The 3D picture of her surrounded by reporters was the most memorable -- I felt like she was standing in my living room."

The test will be repeated several times in the next few weeks as CBC calibrates its transmitters. Starowicz said the CBC wanted to ensure that every viewer in Canada could potentially watch the footage, regardless of how those viewers received their TV signal (the program will be available in HD, as well).

But those who don't manage to get a pair of glasses won't be completely out of luck, he said, given that "large portions" of the program would be broadcast in 2D.

"We don't want to totally exclude every viewer who doesn't happen to have a pair of glasses," he said. "It'll go back and forth between 3D and 2D, so I think people who even don't have glasses will be able to stick with it."

"If you don't have glasses, the image is slightly blurry but still watchable."

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