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From video games to movies 3D is on the march

LAS VEGAS, Jan 12 – Two-dimensional television is so last year.

Viewing in three dimensions is everywhere at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) — from webcams to video games to home theater systems — and some TV manufacturers are betting it could be the biggest thing since high-definition and flat screens.

This year’s edition of CES, the world’s largest consumer technology showcase, even featured the first national 3D broadcast of a major sporting event, the US college football championship game between Oklahoma and Florida.

Some products — such as the Minoru 3D Webcam — may end up being little more than a novelty item, a description which pretty much sums up Hollywood’s decades-long flirtation with 3D.

Heavy-hitters led by Japanese electronics giant Panasonic and Oscar-winning director James Cameron, are seeking to change that.

"Make no mistake about it, 3D is not a gimmick any longer," the Titanic director said in a taped message during a presentation at CES of Panasonic’s 3D Full High-Definition (HD) home theater system.

"3D is ready for prime-time," said Cameron, who is putting the finishing touches to a 3D movie, Avatar, scheduled for release later this year.

More movie theaters in the United States are equipped to show 3D films in which action threatens to spill out of screens but bringing 3D into the home may still be some ways off.

One of things holding 3D back is the absence of a common standard for 3D content, which in turn is holding back the movie studios which will provide that content.

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With its 103-inch plasma display and breathtaking visual effects, Panasonic’s 3D Full HD home theater system received rave reviews but a spokesman said there is no firm date for bringing it to the US market.

"It depends on whether or not we can get a format established," said Dan Tarwater. "Panasonic is interested in being able to come to the marketplace with a standard in place rather than venturing out on their own.

"That will involve the cooperation of not only the hardware manufacturers but also the software side of things," he said.

Then there’s the little problem of those glasses.

"I don’t think it will be a mass market technology until content improves and manufacturers can come up with a way to do 3D without the glasses," said Paul Gagnon, a television market analyst at research firm DisplaySearch.

"There are some demos without glasses, but they have lots of room for improvement," Gagnon said.

The CES coincided this year with a major 3D initiative on another front, the broadcast of the Oklahoma-Florida football game in 3D to some 80 movie theaters in 35 US states.

"It’s taken eight years," said Bud Mayo, chief executive of Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp., a company seeking to turn movie theaters into 3D entertainment centers which would show sports, concerts and other events in three dimensions.

"We’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars converting theaters all around the nation and built the satellite network that enabled this to happen," he said.

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The 80 theaters showing the football game sold out but the jury’s still out on whether the venture will be a success.

The future is less uncertain for 3D video games.

"This is the year 3D goes mainstream," said Ujesh Desai, vice president of GeForce desktop business at computer graphics chip specialty firm NVIDIA, whose demonstrations of 3D video games were a CES highlight.

"I think 3D has a great opportunity as a niche technology at first, for gaming mostly," agreed Gagnon.

John Jacobs, a notebook PC analyst at DisplaySearch, said the 3D video game displays were "off the charts impressive."

"But the challege to me becomes how big are those markets and how many resources do you want to invest?" he said. "The challenge is to go mainstream. But then Ferrari’s not mainstream and they make a boatload of money."

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