Discovery, ESPN to launch 3D TV channels in US

The companies hope to move 3D entertainment from theaters to the living room

Discovery Communications and ESPN both are launching 3D television networks in the U.S., hoping to move the technology out of theaters and into the living room.

The announcements were made Tuesday ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where 3D TV is expected to be one of the big themes.

Discovery said it is forming a joint venture company with Sony and IMAX to deliver the service. It will be a dedicated, 24-hour channel that shows movies, nature programs and other content that lends itself well to 3D.

Separately, ESPN said it will show at least 85 sports events this year on its new ESPN 3D channel, according to a statement. It will start with the first 2010 FIFA World Cup match on June 11, between South Africa and Mexico, and include up to 25 other World Cup matches. The company said it has been testing the service for two years.

Some are already calling this year's show the "3D CES." Big electronics vendors such as Sony, LG Electronics and Panasonic are expected to show 3D-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players that should make it into stores later this year.

The electronics makers are looking to 3D as a way to encourage consumers to upgrade to new televisions, and they are positioning it as a more dramatic leap forward than the move from standard quality to high-definition television. They hope the James Cameron 3D film "Avatar" will spur wider interest in the technology.

But it's unclear whether consumers who recently bought HDTVs and next-generation DVD players will be willing to fork out again soon for new equipment.

"It seems presumptuous to assume people are going to throw out their HDTVs to buy 3D TVs after only a year or two," said Michael Stroud, CEO of the iHollywood Forum, in a panel discussion about 3D TV at the recent Digital Living Room conference in Silicon Valley.

Some see the need for consumers to wear special 3D glasses as another potential stumbling block for 3D in homes.

Still, the industry is acting confident that the viewing experience will be impressive enough to get people on board. "It is clear to us that consumers will always migrate to a better and richer entertainment experience," Sony Chairman and CEO Howard Stringer said in a statement announcing the Discovery service.

Discovery, which owns the Discovery Channel and 12 other TV networks in the U.S., will deliver the joint venture's 3D channel. Sony and IMAX will license television rights to 3D movies and other content and provide advertising and sales support. IMAX will also promote the service in its theaters and provide "image enhancement and 3D technologies."

The Discovery service will launch initially in the U.S., but the companies said they will explore taking it overseas. They didn't provide a launch date in their statement, but reports said the service will begin in 2011.

There have also been reports, citing unnamed sources, that DirectTV plans to launch a 3D HDTV channel in the U.S. early this year.

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