Last Tuesday, official Worldwide Olympic Partner Panasonic announced this summer's Olympics 3D coverage marked 'the end of the beginning' of the effort to drive 3D entertainment into the home.
But judging from the lack of interest, I'm asking, is this 'the beginning of the end' for 3D sports?
The ambition and scale of the London Olympics 3D coverage certainly cannot be criticised. After three years of testing, 33 3D rigs are capturing gymnastics, diving, basketball and athletics to name just a few events, which will culminate in over 300 hours of 3D coverage after Sunday's Closing Ceremony.
The stakes are high. If the biggest sporting event in the world does not sell the immersive virtues of 3D television, what will? The most popular explanation for the slow take-up of 3D television services is the lack of content and live 3D sports has often been touted as the killer 3D app leading BSkyB to install over 1500 LG 3D screens in British pubs. Even 3D champion James Cameron recently admitted he misjudged the progress of 3D TV and that only when glasses free 3D TV becomes mainstream will there be an "avalanche of 3D production".
Like most things in 3D, certain sports look better than others. The danger of the gymnastics is enhanced; judging the distance between runners is easier and the synchronised swimming is more theatrical. The Opening Ceremony in 3D was simply awe-inspiring.
But is this 3D golden opportunity picking up golden medals from viewers?
American bloggers have slated NBC's 3D coverage, complaining about the 24 hour delay, lack of promotion and pop-up commercials for the 3D Blu-ray release of 'The Lorax'.
Although there are no such issues in the UK, viewers of the BBC's 3D highlights coverage have dwindled. Information supplied by overnight ratings provider Attentional reveals that, from July 30th to August 7th, the average audience for the BBC 3D one hour highlights programme, broadcast every night at 23.00, was 10,460. Even more depressing is that the overnight average for the August 5th, 6th and 7th was 4,000 viewers.
The BBC will be studying these figures closely when deciding whether to invest in future 3D sport broadcasts.
Paul Gray, Director TV Electronics & Europe TV Research at Display Search said there are around 1.5 million 3D TVs in the UK today including sets sold without glasses.
So why are the figures so low? After all, Twitter is packed with positive adjectives such as 'wow', 'awesome' and even 'Olympics is what 3D TVs were made for!'
In short; after the initial wow factor, people do not watch the Olympics to be in awe of the visuals; they are rooting for their country's team players to achieve patriotic victory.
After a few minutes, the short-comings of existing 3D technology become tiring due to the dark 'one size fits all' glasses, flare aberrations from stadium lights and fuzzy graphics. The bright crisp HD images of 2D suddenly become very appealing.
There is no doubt that the OBS and partners are doing an excellent job. In fact, it is the best example of live 3D sports I have ever seen and believe me, I have watched lots for 3D Focus. But they are fighting an uphill battle that even Bradley Wiggins would struggle with. This is because 3D TVs have been introduced to the home prematurely.
Rather than think of the London Olympics as being an ideal showcase for 3D, I would argue it is too important an event to be showcased in 3D. It is incompatible with the way people want to consume most sports, especially as major of the Olympics. After week one of the coverage, the BBC reported 1.5m people had downloaded the BBC Olympics smartphone app and the BBC Sport website had seen 29m requests for its Olympics interactive video streams. People are more interested in the medal tally and watching the events to see who is going to win - not how deep the water looks in the Aquatics Centre.
People do like 3D, especially for event programming, but existing 3D TV technology means these moments are short lived, as proven by my own 100% un-scientific experiment/party during the Opening Ceremony.
My guests where initially in awe of the bicycle riding doves but soon ordered me to switch back to flat-vision, complaining that the 3D was distracting. I could not blame them. Whilst the 3D did add a greater sense of scale to the stadium (I indulged myself and watched the entire event in 3D the next morning, albeit with a slightly fuzzy head), the risk of watching the only time London will host an opening ceremony with 50% picture detail and restrictive TV viewing angles was too great (a growing mountain of empty wine bottles and Pringles packets obscured the prime 3D viewing zone).
While TV manufacturers say we need more content, perhaps we need to re-focus on the technology. Some argue that current 3D is not 'true 3D' rather 'pseudo 3D'. That is, the viewer can't look around objects. Fortunately, there are companies working on the next generation of 3D displays that do away with the glasses.
The BBC and NHK are currently treating audiences to Super Hi-Vision screenings of London Olympics highlights in the format described as 'the future of television'. With a resolution 16 times that of current HD, SHV is often credited for being 'more impressive than 3D' although NHK will use the technology to offer 'Integral 3D' - a full glasses free 3D format, in approximately 20 years.
So will the London Olympics 3D coverage mark the end of this wave of 3D? High profile 3D films such as 'The Hobbit' and 'The Great Gatsby' are likely to prevent 3D entertainment disappearing for a fourth time (much to the disappointment of some) and glasses based 3D TVs are improving all the time, with full HD passive 3D TVs expected soon.
During this year's Wimbledon Tennis Championships 3D live broadcast, BBC Sport Executive Producer Paul Davies said "We know 3D per'se has its attraction. I think many viewers would have been to a 3D film in the cinema and fully appreciated the impact and immersive experience that 3D offers. From a sporting perspective, I think the jury is still out."
There can be no doubt that 3D sports coverage has improved immensely over the past couple of years. It has been wonderful to see new televised sports in 3D for the first time such as basketball, javelin and badminton. Credit should be given to all the people working behind-the-scenes on such a ground-breaking project.
But no matter how good the coverage is, the London Olympics won't be 3D TV's Avatar moment. Whilst Twitter users sing the praises of the coverage, ask them to pay extra for it and you will find a less than enthusiast response. For many people, this will be the first time they have watched 3D in the home and in that sense, it does echo the Avatar effect. James Cameron's mega-hit was the first time many people had seen a 3D film and its third dimension was a key part of the marketing strategy. After the initial interest, habits are hard to break and 3D films are now suffering all time low box office receipts from the 3D premium. The same will happen post Olympics and interest for 3D sports will remain low until 3D TV technology fits into people's lifestyles and can offer a better experience than HD 2D.
Panasonic put up all of the money and gear for the 3D Olympics feed, and the OBS offered it to cable and satellite operators in the US for free. This level of subsidy can not go on forever.
While the BBC and BSkyB can afford to experiment with 3D sports without an immediate return (whether that is value for license fee payers or increased subscriptions) other commercial platforms won't invest in the expensive equipment if 3D does not attract advertisers. The ratings performance of the London Olympics won't be encouraging broadcasters to take a gamble any time soon.
After reading this you might be surprised to hear that I believe 3D TV has a bright future. Although this generation of 3D TV has its limitations, more visual based, extreme and dare I say gimmicky content can keep it alive until the technology can match expectations. 3D sports will need to come later.
Follow Jonathan Tustain on Twitter: www.twitter.com/3dfocuslive