By some accounts, 3-D technology has been one of the biggest stories of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (taking place this week in Las Vegas). Panasonic, Samsung, LG, Toshiba, and Sony have all launched 3-D televisions at the show, and the success of 3-D movie “Avatar” is setting the stage for what will likely be the biggest revival of 3-D filmmaking since its “golden age” in the 1950s. 3-D may even be coming to your mobile device or tablet PC, thanks to new chips by NVIDIA.

DisplaySearch_3dThe market analysts at DisplaySearch predict rapid growth for 3-D displays — from about 700,000 units shipped in 2009 to 196 million units in 2018. TVs are expected to make up about a third of 3-D ready displays, with 64 million units expected to ship in 2018. Surprisingly, 3-D ready mobile phones will outnumber 3-D TVs, with 71 million 3-D mobile phones expected to ship in 2018. DisplaySearch predicts that 17.7 million 3-D notebook PCs and 10 million 3-D monitors will ship in 2018, comprising 3-4% of total shipments for those products.

The rapid growth and increased availability of 3-D displays PWC_3dmeans we will be able to don our 3-D glasses (technology does not yet exist to watch in 3-D without glasses) and watch 3-D movies virtually anywhere. But what will we watch?

A PriceWaterhouseCoopers report shows that there were only 45 3-D films released in that past decade, a far cry from the 158 that were released in the 1950s. They predict that through 2014, 3-D movies will make up only 10-15% of total movie titles released. 3-D production is still enormously expensive, there are limited 3-D movie screens throughout the country, and the higher admission price point will limit the number of 3-D movies some can afford to see. After all, box office revenues are the biggest source of income for movie studios before the movie ever makes it to your home screen.

Other sources of 3-D content are television programs and video games. PriceWaterhouseCoopers predicts minor growth in premium 3-D live broadcast television content. Hardcore gamers will continue to seek out 3-D monitors and laptops to play the more than 300 3-D video game titles currently in existence.

The CES hype around 3-D TV demonstrates that 3-D capability will become an important feature to consumers as they look to buy the most advanced devices. I predict that 3-D at home will still be a niche activity in eight years, once consumers confront the reality of watching 3-D: having to buy glasses for each household viewer, having to buy a 3-D capable movie player, and then coming up with quality 3-D content.