Coming Soon to a Home Near You: 3DTVs, 3-D Cable Channels

Well how about that. We knew 3-D would be a big topic of discussion at CES this year, but with new 3-D capable HDTVs and new cable programming slated for release this year, it looks like 3-D could be the topic of the show.

Consumer electronics manufacturers say 3-D is finally ready for prime time, and are making big bets on the technology over the next few years. Top CE companies Sony, Panasonic, LG Electronics and now Vizio will all be showing off 3DTVs at CES, following previous product launches by Mitsubishi, Philips and Sharp. While 3-D display market is still nascent, research firm DisplaySearch forecasts that it will grow from 0.7 million units and $902 million in revenues in 2008 to 196 million units and $22 billion in revenues in 2018.

Last week we opined that the success of Avatar might help jump-start that growth in the home 3-D market, but it looks like big, blockbuster 3-D films will only be part of growing consumer interest in the technology. Sure, with over $1 billion at the worldwide box office, the movie has shown that viewers are interested in 3-D, but it looks like a little more regular cable programming could help grow consumer interest in the home as well.

This morning, ESPN and Discovery both announced plans to roll out 3-D cable networks, finally giving early adopters something to watch on those fancy (and expensive) new TVs. ESPN says it will launch its 3-D offering on June 11, just in time for the first 2010 FIFA World Cup match between South Africa and Mexico. ESPN expects to show more than 85 events in 3-D on the new cable network in the first year, including up to 25 FIFA World Cup matches, college basketball and college football games.

Discovery, meanwhile, announced a joint venture with Sony and IMAX to create the first round-the-clock 3-D cable network in the US. While the network won’t launch until 2011, it will include “high-quality premium content from genres that are most appealing in 3D, including natural history, space, exploration, adventure, engineering, science and technology, motion pictures and children’s programming,” according to the press release. The network will have content from Discovery, Sony, and IMAX, of course, but will also include content from third parties.

Some have been skeptical about adoption of 3-D in the home, including GigaOm Pro’s Paul Sweeting, who believes the consumer electronics industry could be “putting the cart before the horse” by rolling out 3-D enabled TVs. But with some actual premium content from cable providers on tap, adoption of 3-D in the home might be ready to kick off in earnest.

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