The football World Cup promises to do for 3DTV what Avatar did for 3D movies. Some 25 matches will be shot in stereoscopic 3D, using seven pairs of Sony camera rigs across five of the ten venues in South Africa. The pictures will be beamed around the world, although relatively few people will be able to watch the games in 3D. Compatible displays are only just coming onto the market.

The 3D coverage will begin with the opening match between South Africa and Mexico on 11 June, followed by other selected matches, the quarter and semi-finals, and the final on 11 July.

“The 3D feed from these 25 matches will be made available for broadcast on 3D channels,” announced Niclas Ericson, director of FIFA TV. He said that while discussions with major broadcasters are ongoing, the first confirmed include ESPN in the United States and Sogecable in Spain. Further announcements are expected.

In the United Kingdom, Sky has already kicked off its 3D coverage of football but the BBC and ITV share the rights to the World Cup. It remains to be seen whether Sky will be able to carry 3D coverage on its platform. The first round England matches will not be shot in 3D in any case.

The international football federation FIFA says that eight matches will be shown live in digital cinemas and selected venues around the world. It has appointed Aruna Media in Switzerland to manage the exclusive cinema and entertainment venue rights for live games in 3D. It plans to broadcast live 3D coverage to a number of countries.

Sony is also planning to show 3D promotional trailers on its 3DBravia televisions in around 4,000 Sony affiliated retail stores worldwide. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment also plans to produce and distribute the official FIFA film in 3D on Blu-ray Disc.

3DTV is a key topic at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. Hiroshi Yoshioka, who oversees the television, digital imaging, home audio and video businesses of Sony will deliver the opening keynote, addressing their vision for the future of 3D technology for both the professional and consumer markets.

The Masters golf tournament is being screened in 3D on a temporary channel on Comcast cable in some areas. It can be received on a standard high-definition set-top box, although it requires a 3D compatible display and glasses, which few customers will have. The 3D coverage is also being streamed live online, although again it requires a compatible display and glasses.

Although relatively few people will actually be able to watch the World Cup coverage live in 3D, it will serve to drive awareness and no doubt consumer demand. Whether we will all be watching 3DTV by the next World Cup is another matter.