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Converting to 3-D Only Helps the Box Office

Monday, 5 Apr 2010 | 5:08 PM ET

There's no debating it: 3D is hot.

Technofile cinema purists (like James Cameron) have raised concerns that converting ordinary 2D films to 3D will result in an inferior product to the likes of Cameron's "Avatar" .

The fear is that a disappointing 3D upgrade will turn off consumers to the pricey 3-D theatrical experience, which runs an average $3 more per ticket. The success of Warner Bros. "Clash of the Titans" should assuage those fears: it grossed $64 million Thursday through Sunday, smashing all Eastern weekend records.

Whether or not you're a fan of the 3D upgrade technology, it's hard to argue with the fact that it's worth it for movies like "Titans" to invest in the 3D upgrade. It cost somewhere around $4.5 or $5 million to convert this film to play in 3D theaters, and it was worth it. 3D accounted for nearly 55 percent of "Titans" opening weekend gross, though only 42 percent of its screens were 3D equipped. Accounting for the fact that 3D tickets are more expensive, the upgrade to 3D already added some $10 million to the film's bottom line. That's good news for other studios shooting in 2D. It may not look quite as remarkable, but it provides a lot more flexibility (and it's cheaper) to convert to 3D after shooting.

Still, this weekend's performance underscores the ongoing challenge of the 3D screen crunch. Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" was pushed out of most of its 3D screens to make room for "Titans": there simply weren't enough 3D screens to go around. After holding up nicely until now, "Alice" took its biggest drop yet, delivering 53 percent less at the box office than the prior weekend. Dreamworks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon" retained many of the 3D screens it had the prior weekend -- its box office take dropped just a third from the prior weekend. But that stole space from "Titans." The roll-out of additional theaters can't happen fast enough.

This is also a big week for 3D on your TV — Comcast will deliver the Masters to your home TV in 3D. The cable giant will deliver two hours of coverage each day, April 7-11, in 3D. With Tiger's return sure to draw a huge number of viewers, this is sure to get a ton of attention. Not every TV works for 3D tv, but if the technology is well received by those that can get fancy transmission, it'll surely accelerate the rollout of more 3D content and will make 3D equipped televisions a more appealing investment.

Note: Comcast is hoping to acquire CNBC and NBC Universal from our parent company, General Electric.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.