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3D TV Future Relies on Sports

I had just built my beautiful new man cave and it was time to decide what TV would make the cut. I was willing to pay some good money, as I needed it to be something that would have some sort of "wow" factor.

Samsung 3D TV
Source: samsung.com
Samsung 3D TV

The salesman convinced me that 3D was the way to go. It was only $499 more than a similar TV I was considering. Sure, I'd have to pay $250 for the glasses, but what's $749 more? It was a good insurance policy, he said. And the best part? Today's 3D TV's are the best HD TV's as well, so it was a win-win, especially if I loved sports. With a faster refresh rate, a football wouldn't ever be fuzzy as it floated through the air.

I had seen 3D sports in the theatre and at times I was moderately impressed. I watched it in the store to get the "at home" feel for about 10 minutes. And, at the end of the day, I went home with the best HD TV I could find. The fact that a junkie like me made that decision for a mancave that I had already invested heavily in is a bad sign for 3D.

My fellow Americans are feeling the same way.

Only 3.2 million 3D TV sets have been sold worldwide this year, according to the DisplaySearch, and the 1.6 million sold in the US is well below projections.

With 3D content being driven by sports, ESPN is not surprisingly at the forefront of the effort. The broadcaster recently revealed the results from the most comprehensive study about today's 3D product. Most of the study results showed positive signs, including better ad recall, while negative signs such as depth perception issues and headaches turned out to be relatively minimal.

The one number that caught my eye however was the enjoyment factor. ESPN says the enjoyment of watching 3D over HD was five percent better. That's not enough in this economy to convince a person to spend some $500 to $700 more, all in. Remember, some 3D TV's don't include the Blu-Ray.

Years ago, at an NBA Technology Summit that took place during All-Star Game weekend, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Fox Sports head David Hill got into an argument over what the next big thing was in TV. Cuban, co-founder of HDNet, of course said HD. Hill, however, said it was 3D. But, judging from his recent comments, it seems like even Hill is worried about the cost upgrades to 3D without a proven marketplace.

Many sports fans thought that HD was worth the price upgrade. The picture, for the first time, looked so clear that you almost felt like you were there. 3D feels like the players are in front of your face and I can see how some don't think it's an upgrade at all. Wearing glasses at the movie theatre twice a year is cool, but wearing it to watch a three and half hour football game? The jury is still out. And don't forget, as the guy in the store will tell you, because the 3D glasses are active glasses, they are not universal. So you can't take your Panasonic glasses over to a friend who has a Samsung 3D TV to watch Sunday Night Football.

DisplaySearch projects that, by the time the FIFA World Cup in Brazil takes place in 2014, 3D TV's will make up 40 percent of flat screens that are shipped. There's a reason they are targeting their projection around the World Cup. The World Cup will surely drive sales if the market is there.

In four years, I'll be considering another mancave TV and then perhaps I'll consider 3D. But part of me thinks that 3D could go the way of the mini disk player, which I bought by the way.

If prices can't be lowered closer to today's HD sets people aren't going to pay the current premium and if that happens, broadcasters like ESPN aren't going to heavily commit to the 3D product. Believing that live sports is 3D's number one appeal, if the sports community doesn't embrace this technology soon, I have to believe there's a slight chance this could be dead on arrival.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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