Comes Now the 3D Deluge


The 3D gold rush is officially on.

Driven by TV set makers’ need, programmers (including ESPN and Discovery Communications) and distributors (DirecTV) broke ahead of the pack last week with plans for TV channels emanating in 3D format.

The venue was the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. That’s the same place where, three years ago, DirecTV declared it would soon offer 100 high-definition channels — long before programmers had even announced plans for some of the channels DirecTV named.

Like the “sudden” HD explosion, 3D has been building for some time. Movies have established the format for consumers, with Avatar solidifying it as a product consumers will pay a premium to see in 3D. ESPN said it’s been experimenting with showing live events in 3D for more than a year. CableLabs has been on the case for several months, laying the technical groundwork for set-tops to handle the new format.

Also like HD, consumers will need to decide to buy new TV sets to create a mass audience. That’s after millions of us have already bought new flat screens the last couple of years. And with no over-the-air conversion to drive us into 3D’s arms.

ESPN and Discovery — sports and nature programs — are logical leaders in content. Which will be the first big movie service to follow their trail? One that’s obtained consumer-electronic backing, no doubt, as ESPN and Discovery did.

I haven’t seen 3D TV yet, so I refrain from being a skeptic. The CE investment is there now and might be enough to drive it to the mass market envisioned by the hype, in however many years that might take.

I also haven’t seen Avatar yet, but hear from others that the story is at least worthy of the format. Something to bear in mind for programmers and the rest of us watching the money start to flow.

Without the right content, the 3D gold rush might turn into a bust.