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US TV plans 3-D revolution



Riding what it hopes will be the next big wave in consumer electronics, sports network ESPN says it will have a 3-D channel for live events in time for the FIFA World Cup in June.

Up to 25 World Cup matches will be shown on what ESPN called “the industry’s first 3D television network, which will broadcast at least 85 live 3-D events in its first year.

“Meanwhile, Sony, Discovery Communications and IMAX have announced a joint venture to “develop the first 24/7 dedicated 3-D television network” in the US.

The network, due to launch next year, will feature “high-quality premium content from genres that are most appealing in 3-D, including natural history, space, exploration, adventure, engineering, science and technology, motion pictures and children’s programming.”

Avatar reawakens 3-D interest

Sony, Discovery and IMAX said they will be equal partners in the venture aimed at bringing a “high-quality three-dimensional viewing experience to home television audiences.”

The dueling announcements came as representatives of leading electronics firms from around the world gathered in Las Vegas for the annual International Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Japanese and South Korean television manufacturers have been pushing 3-D TV in the home for some time now but its growth has been stunted by a lack of programming, the need to wear special glasses and the high price of a 3-D set.

But last month’s release of science fiction blockbuster Avatar, a 3-D film by Titanic director James Cameron, has renewed interest in 3-D, and some industry leaders believe the time has come for 3-D TV in the home.

“This is a turning point for 3-D,” Consumer Electronics Association chief executive Gary Shapiro told the USA Today newspaper.

ESPN president George Bodenheimer said ESPN 3-D “marries great content with new technology to enhance the fan’s viewing experience and puts ESPN at the forefront of the next big advance for TV viewing”.

‘Groundbreaking’ move to TV

ESPN said it had tested the technology for more than two years, including events where it showed a US college football game in a limited number of movie theaters.

For the moment, ESPN will only broadcast special live sports events in 3-D while the Sony, Discovery, IMAX deal calls for the creation of a dedicated 3-D channel.

Sony president and chief executive Sir Howard Stringer called the move a “groundbreaking new venture.”

“It is clear to us that consumers will always migrate to a better and richer entertainment experience, and together we are determined to be the leader in providing that around the world,” Stringer said.

Discovery, Sony and IMAX said the 3-D network would launch first in the US and they would eventually “explore international distribution opportunities in selected markets.”