HBO Pops Cork On 3D Video-On-Demand

HBO's New Year's resolution: Let subs with fancy 3DTV sets watch movies that jump off the screen.

The premium channel's initial 3D video-on-demand lineup, to be available starting Jan. 3, includes Coraline, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Monsters vs. Aliens and Clash of the Titans.

"Our feeling is that, while it's early, HBO subscribers tend to be early adopters," chief technology officer Bob Zitter said.

The 3D VOD titles will be avai lable through HBO affiliates that offer its high-definition VOD service; those currently include Comcast and Verizon Communications' FiOS TV.

HBO expects to add more 3D titles in the coming months. It could soon get its hands on James Cameron's Avatar -- the box-office dynamo that fired up Hollywood's 3D frenzy -- as the programmer has a movie output deal with 20th Century Fox. HBO also has deals with Warner Bros., Universal Studios and DreamWorks Animation.

Boxing in 3D may also be coming to HBO. The programmer did a dry run, shooting the Dec. 11 bout between Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana in Las Vegas with 3D production company Pace. "There's a lot to learn about [producing] 3D if you're going to do it right," Zitter said.

So far, consumer interest in 3DTV has been weak. Only 2% of North American adults own a 3D television -- and just 6% "definitely" or "probably" will purchase a 3DTV in the next 12 months, according to a Nielsen online survey conducted in September.

Still, TV makers, programmers and distributors are poised to take a second run at 3DTV in the new year.

"It's very similar to how HD came out. That was a slow rollout at first," Comcast vice president of entertainment services Diana Kerekes said. "For those who are investing in 3D, they want that content."

For now HBO has no plans to debut a linear 3D channel. "I think it's unlikely," Zitter said. "The vast majority of our subscribers have on-demand and like on-demand.... and most distributors don't have enough bandwidth for any additional linear services."

HBO's 3D VOD assets are encoded in side-by-side "frame compatible" format. In MPEG-2, the video is compressed to 18.5 Megabits per second, higher than the 15 Mbps for HD.