LONDON (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of soccer fans are likely to get their first taste of live 3D viewing during this year's World Cup, the vast majority of them in cinemas rather than at home, according to football body FIFA.
Together with partner Sony, FIFA plans to supply 25 World Cup matches in the immersive 3D technology made popular in cinemas by blockbuster movie Avatar and expected to spread to living rooms around the world this year.
Viewers with 3D television sets who live in a country where the broadcaster with World Cup rights also has 3D capabilities will also be able to watch live in 3D at home -- if they are not put off by the need to wear special glasses.
Currently, Disney's ESPN in the United States, Prisa's Sogecable in Spain and Korea's SBS have live 3D rights. More such deals are expected to be announced "shortly," FIFA's TV Director Niclas Ericson said.
In some countries, home 3D viewing will not be an option. For example, in Britain only BSkyB will have a 3D channel by the start of the World Cup in June, but the rights are held by ITV and the publicly-owned BBC.
Asked at a London media event on Thursday how many viewers were likely to watch World Cup games live in 3D, Ericson said: "We hope it will be at least a few hundred thousand per match," adding that most of the audience was likely to be in cinemas.
Rights for cinemas and entertainment venues are being managed by Swiss-based Aruna Media AG, which plans to broadcast live to about 26 countries and is in advanced discussions with several major markets, FIFA and Sony said.
Sony hopes the tournament will whet viewers' appetite for 3D, an industry still in its infancy, with several competing technologies and very few TV sets in homes. It plans to show 3D promotional trailers in thousands of retail stores worldwide.
The Japanese electronics giant will start selling its own 3D TVs in early June in Japan. Rivals LG, Panasonic and Samsung have all also recently unveiled 3D offerings.
Technology research firm iSuppli expects about 4.2 million 3D TV sets to be sold worldwide this year at an average price of $1,768. That should rise to 78 million sets by 2015, worth a total of $64.4 billion, iSuppli forecasts.
Much is at stake for Sony, which will need to show it can translate its expertise in 3D hardware and film content to the very different environment of sports, where fast-moving action can mean blurry images and even induce nausea in viewers.
"It will be a much richer experience, there's a lot of depth to it. It won't be similar to the Hollywood experience where there's a lot of in-your-face Wow! type of effects," David Bush, Marketing Director of Sony Professional," told Reuters TV.
"What we expect to replicate is the experience of being in the stadium."
The World Cup runs for a month from June 11 in South Africa. The list of matches to be captured in 3D can be read here:
(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan and Matt Cowan; Editing by Rupert Winchester)