What Can 3D do for the Web?

Electronics manufacturers are still trying to pull together the right mix of conditions necessary to make 3D TV reach critical mass in consumer popularity — price, content, standards, etc. Could the Web be an easier channel through which 3D can blossom? It may be easier to distribute content, but hardware runs into a familiar chicken-and-egg problem.

In 2009, director James Cameron made people love seeing 3D movies in the theater again. In 2010, electronics companies began offering the first in-home stereoscopic 3D TV sets, and content providers launched Blu-ray 3D and broadcast 3D channels.

Now it’s 2011, and there are still big changes happening in the 3D space, but there’s one major source of media and entertainment that hasn’t really come a-knocking to the 3D door yet.It’s surely only a matter of time before the Web starts going to a new dimension.

Despite all of the 3D stuff going on in the consumer electronics market these days, advances may be coming a little too fast for some consumers. 3D TV sales last year were below expectations for manufacturers like Samsung, which threw considerable weight behind the new format. Many consumers shied away from this expensive new format that had almost no content.

Despite that, many are starting to take a different path. One of the emerging trends is glasses-free 3D technology, also known as “autostereoscopic 3D.” LG has introduced a new iPad rival, the G-Slate, which can produce images that have the sense of depth, without the need for users to wear glasses. But something like that can only have high appeal if there is compelling content.

Obviously, 3D TV programming and Blu-ray 3D movies are out of the question there, so 3D content on the Internet would perhaps be the most compelling selling point.Aside from glasses-free 3D tablets, computer makers that are manufacturing 3D hardware are finding it difficult to advertise exclusive 3D content. 3D computers are selling even worse than 3D TVs. At this point, it’s up to online content providers to step up to the plate and bring this home media revolution to the cyber world.

This isn’t a completely new idea. There have been limited 3D streaming events online. NASCAR helped bring some of its races last year to 3D computer viewers via an exclusive online stream that was not broadcast on any 3D TV network. For the most part, though, 3D hasn’t penetrated the Net.

“Internet content providers don’t want to spend resources creating 3D content unless there are a lot of people with Internet-connected 3D devices,” she noted. “But by the same token, people don’t want to buy expensive 3D devices unless there’s a lot of 3D content.”

Realistically, Cressman said, it’s the content providers who need to make the first move. However, that might be an easier proposition for the Internet than it is for a traditional movie studio or satellite provider. Current 3D pioneers like DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) and ESPN have had to not only buy new 3D video equipment and transmission technologies, but they have to lobby advertisers to make 3D commercials and help manufacturers market their 3D hardware.

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