The pope is going HD -- and gearing up to go 3D.
The Vatican unveiled a new euro4.5 million ($6 million) high-definition mobile unit Tuesday to broadcast the pope's Masses, audiences and other events in high definition.
The equipment can be upgraded for eventual 3D papal productions -- the latest technological step the Holy See has taken to try to reverse the pope's communications woes and bring the 2,000-year-old institution into the 21st century.
Officials said at a press conference that viewers won't be seeing special effects or superhero antics in solemn papal Masses anytime soon: The Vatican's 3D capabilities, once developed, will just provide higher resolution, more vivid colors and involve the audience more, said Gildas Pelliet, the head of Sony Italia.
"3-D can be done in a very discreet, subtle way," he said. "It's not like a film that we see in the movie theaters with all this spectacle."
Sony gave the Vatican a roughly euro1 million ($1.36 million) discount on the equipment, and the Knights of Columbus, which has helped subsidize the Holy See's communications investments for more than 50 years, kicked in nearly another euro1 million. The Vatican's television branch, Centro Televisivo Vaticano, paid for the rest from savings over several years, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman and head of CTV.
Lombardi said the Vatican needed to keep competitive with the rapidly changing HD technology since it's increasingly becoming the norm for broadcasters and documentary makers alike.
"If we don't maintain an adequate level of quality and capacity, we'd be standing in the way of broadcasting images and thus the pope's message," he said.
He said he expected the Vatican's HD cameras and broadcasting capabilities to be ready to roll for the pope's Christmas events, and would be used then on for special events at the Vatican. He said the mobile unit could in theory be deployed for special events outside the Vatican, as well.
Pope Benedict XVI's five-year papacy has been marked by several communications breakdowns -- his rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop, the clerical sex abuse scandal among others. He has admitted such mistakes could have been avoided had Vatican officials consulted the Internet or acted more swiftly and decisively when news arrived.
At the same time, though, Benedict has presided over technological leaps to try to get his message out: The Vatican has beefed up its presence on the Internet with a YouTube channel, a Pope2You portal for young people and initiatives to bring his message to social networking sites and smartphones.
The 83-year-old Benedict, who himself still writes longhand, said in a recent document that "all means, new and old, should be used intelligently" to bring the faith to the people.