For HDTV, the content that sent the format over-the-top was clearly sports. Movies on DVD-Video looked pretty good to the average consumer at the time that HDTV made its debut, but taking fast-action sports and showing them to consumers in 1080i or 720p and people lost their minds while opening their wallets. 3D is betting hard on sports, but companies like Sony are looking to video games for an early adopter audience that a) is willing to spend on new technologies early on, and b) are techno-nerds and c) have the discretionary cash to buy into 3D.
At Sony's launch of 3D on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City, the company showed a host of 3D material on a huge silver screen with polarized glasses, much like how you would watch a movie in the theater. Phil Mickelson's victory at The Masters this year was pretty cool, but it didn't give me that itch in the Black Card that gets me into a store to make an AV investment. At least not yet. Movies in 3D had some exciting moments (especially the computer generated ones), but I sat there wondering if my ISF calibrated JVC projector in a light controlled, dedicated theater room really need to be upgraded to watch "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs" on Blu-ray in 3D. Could this be worth a $10,000 to $20,000 upgrade? Right now, I think I will wait to upgrade a flat HDTV even though 3D is far more impressive on a large screen.
Where 3D really spoke to me was with video gaming. Let me say up upfront - I am not a gamer. I do own Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in my theater but I can play only one - count em' one - game, which is Tiger Woods EA Golf and respectfully on Pebble Beach I can (and have) shot a lower score playing the course myself than as a video game avatar of Tiger Woods. Basically, I suck at video games. There isn't a five year old in America who can't beat me at any video game on the market today. Yet it was the baseball demo that Sony put on that blew my socks off. Literally in beaming HD 1080p video you could see a baseball spinning in front of the screen with the tell-tale rotation of a curveball before you hit it. The reality was striking and the complexity of the game only added to how compelling the baseball game looked. I am not a big fan of the fighting games, but gang guys were getting beaten senseless and tossed into a third dimension which didn't take long for you to see how impressive the possibilities are for 3D in video gaming. I am an exotic car enthusiast and the driving titles showed serious potential as well. The on-road action was realistic and worthy of picking up a pair of glasses.
I am enthusiastic about the possibly of 3D but I won't lie to you and say that I am not skeptical about the commercial viability of the technology at this early point of its launch. To be blunt, 3D's widespread success isn't the slam dunk that HD was years ago. I am convinced that the best 2D HDTVs on the market from the likes of Sony, Samsung and Panasonic (those are the ones that I have seen) are in fact 3D capable sets, but for many people who just got 2D 1080p HDTV sets - is 3D compelling enough to buy another $3,000 HDTV? I am not sure, especially in this choppy economic climate. I am also questioning if mainstream consumers are willing to watch movies with glasses on. Nothing looks more silly than someone wearing glasses with a second set of active 3D glasses on top. Dorky isn't a strong enough word to describe this new techno-look. Autostereoscopic 3D (meaning no glasses) is going to be a major breakthrough for 3D, but it's reportedly five years out. Thus 3D glasses are going to be needed to make things come flying off of the screen into your media room.
Between now and the time autostereoscopic 3D makes it to the mainstream, video games could be the proving ground for the technology. Gamers are the most willing customers for new software and hardware, assuming you can deliver them the outrageous AV experience, and 3D does just that. Video game developers have the CG power to really exploit the possibly of 3D video in an active, engaging format. The video companies are being smart right now and are placing their bets across the board including sports, movies, TV and video games, knowing that 3D isn't a guaranteed success. Don't be shocked if video games play the role that pornography played for VHS, DVD-Video and the Internet. The video gaming industry might just be what drives the success of 3D between now and the day you don't need glasses to watch 3D content.