- guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 6 January 2010 18.08 GMT
Historians specialising in broadcasting media may come to look back on 11 June 2010 as a crucial date in the transformation of the way people consume television in the home.
The American sports broadcaster ESPN has announced that it will use the starting game of the World Cup between South Africa and Mexico to unveil the first dedicated 3D television network, allowing viewers at home to watch the match in the glory of three dimensions.
The move is far more than a mere technological gimmick. Industry advocates are pinning hopes on 3D-TV as the next stage in the development of the medium after HDTV and Blu-ray.
The obstacles to lift-off are phenomenal. Home users will have to invest in new 3D televisions which at least initially will cost more than $2,000.
They will also have to get used to the ignominy of wearing those funny goggles in the home, a necessary accessory as current 3D technology relies on the glasses to filter two sets of synchronised footage separately to the left and right eye thus creating the three-dimensional effect.
There are experiments underway with glasses-free 3D, but the technology is primitive at present.
ESPN hopes to lure rich and experimental viewers — the so-called "first adopters" for whom money is not an object — to invest in the new televisions by promising to broadcast at least 85 live sporting events to its new 3D channel in the first year, starting with 25 World Cup games and then moving to professional basketball, college basketball and football. It will also hope to grab the attention of extreme sports followers by broadcasting the annual X Games competition featuring skateboarding, rally car racing and other events in Los Angeles in July.
Other broadcasters and technology companies are scrambling to get in on the 3D TV market, which has received a huge shot in the arm by the success of Avatar. James Cameron's futuristic exploration of another world, Pandora, using the latest and most subtle 3D filming techniques yet seen, has captured cinema-going audiences across America and surpassed $1bn in box office takings in just three weeks.
The hope is that the same demand can be created for a 3D experience in the home. Discovery Communications is following ESPN, announcing that it has entered a partnership with Imax and Sony to put out a network from 2011.
Though it will be open to subscribers much later than ESPN 3D, it will provide programming around the clock whereas the ESPN network will go black when it is not showing live events.
Technology companies including Sony, Panasonic and Samsung are also rushing to put out 3D TV models, several of which will be promoted at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
"There's certainly an appetite for this, as Avatar has proved," said Max Robins, a broadcasting expert at the New York-based Paley Center for Media.
"It may take a bit longer than people hope for it to catch on, but there's a constant desire to improve and enrich the viewing experience."