Yes, soon you’ll own a 3-D TV

Technology is best taken with a grain of salt. We’ve written in BusinessWeek that widgets won’t work (wrong), Twitter ads will fail (right), and Google may get its search lunch eaten by mobile (the verdict is still out). But man. 3-D video may change the world.

We discovered this by entering a giant Panasonic booth at the SXSW trade show. Sure, we thought, another visual gizmo. Two guys in front of us were skeptical as well. “I mean, how much better can my eyes possibly see?” one dude asked. But inside the unit, a giant screen and battery-powered glasses gave the future game away. The technology works by flashing hundreds of frames per second on a giant high-def screen, with each frame alternating points of view; the powered glasses have lenses that shutter the left, then right eye rapidly in succession, so fast you can’t notice. The result is two angled images, just like real life, beamed to your brain by each eyeball. Whoa. Soccer balls soared past our head in high-def. Avatar aliens soared through trees. The biggest surprise was typographic and graphics — bright hard edges leap forward, making us wonder what salespeople will do with PowerPoint in a few years.

Panasonic and Sony are pushing 3-D hard. Wired has a complete writeup of Sony’s efforts, which include pushing 3-D into consumer cameras as well, so mom can watch little Johnny wiggle in the air. There’s tremendous energy behind this because Sony has missed some recent tech advances, such as the portable MP3 music market now owned by Apple (and lost a billion dollars in 2008 to boot); meanwhile the average U.S. home now has more 2-D televisions than people. But the real reason is the experience is nothing like you’ve seen before. A minor quibble; with some crowd scenes the people and objects look miniature, a bit of a tilt-shift camera effect that makes you feel like you could reach out and squash them. Guess you’ll have to spring for a big set.

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