TORONTO - Canadian director James Cameron has a lot riding on Friday's premiere of his big-budget 3D feature "Avatar," a 15-years-in-the-making pet project that is unofficially being called the most expensive film of all time.
And he's not the only one. Movie studios, TV manufacturers and legions of other industry watchers are eagerly awaiting the tally of "Avatar"'s box-office receipts, as the film is being eyed as a possible barometer of the public's interest in 3D technology, which is due to explode in 2010.
3D is certainly not new and has a long history of being used in movies. But the entertainment industry is hoping "Avatar" pushes 3D firmly into the mainstream once and for all and convinces consumers that 2D is too 20th century.
"I think it's going to create huge, huge initial interest, it'll go through the roof for the first little while," said Piers Handling, chief executive and director of the Toronto International Film Festival.
"Because it's James Cameron and it's the first (feature) film he's made in 12 years and it's 3D, I'm going to go and see it. It doesn't really matter how good it is, I want to go and see it because of the technological advances he's made and I think a lot of other people will as well."
Cineplex Entertainment has already seen interest in 3D films spike and in about two years has installed 146 3D-capable projectors in 86 theatres across the country, said spokeswoman Georgia Sourtzis.
"There's already a demand for 3D movies and ... we anticipate the number of 3D movies growing," she said.
3D is also being pushed as the next big thing by TV manufacturers, which need a new tantalizing technology to lure consumers into another round of expensive upgrades, now that many have already replaced their clunky boxes with streamlined sets.
They're hyping the transition to 3D as the biggest technological shift consumers have seen since going from black-and-white to colour, and are ready to flood the market with 3D-capable sets in 2010.
Sony has predicted that as many as half of all the TVs it sells by 2013 will be 3D ready.
The first wave of Panasonic's 3D TVs will be priced in the range of today's higher-end sets, said Barry Murray, marketing director at Panasonic Canada. TVs will typically come with one set of special 3D glasses, and extras will probably cost "in the range of $100 a pair."
He predicts consumers with a higher-end budget will jump at a 3D set, and within a few years, most other buyers will follow.
"Canadian consumers are traditionally conservative but when you look at these kinds of high-end technologies that are embraced by early adopters, they're probably going to want to 'future proof' their purchase, which means that rather than just buying a standard 2D TV, why not buy a great 2D TV and also have 3D capability," he said.
"It'll probably be a few years off (until almost everyone has a 3D TV) but if we look at the adoption of any new standard it's typically about half a decade for it to become fully entrenched and I think it's reasonable to expect that same trend will occur with 3D."
The Consumer Electronics Association, which runs the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where companies launch the latest and greatest in technology, has warned the business world not to get its hopes too high about 3D adoption in 2010, given the state of the economy and other recent advances in TVs.
"I caution and say should we curb our enthusiasm a little bit for 3D," said Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis at a recent CEA event.
He said consumers may be weary of upgrading, considering many have probably just recently purchased a new plasma or LCD TV.
"We've already asked them to upgrade to HDTV, we've already offered 1080p resolution and surround sound, and we've got Blu-ray, and here we come again asking, 'Mr. Consumer, I understand you just bought that 1080p plasma in 2009 but we want you to go back and buy another set."'
Another possible deterrent for consumers will be the initial availability of 3D content and the timeline until it's regularly broadcast by TV networks.
The British network SkyTV says it plans to launch a dedicated 3D channel in 2010 but no North American networks have dropped similar hints. FIFA also announced a deal with Sony to record up to 25 games of the 2010 World Cup in 3D, but it's not yet clear whether any matches will be shown live in 3D.
Then there's the glasses issue. Families may be turned off by the need to buy a few extra pairs of glasses for the household, and 3D technology that could allow for glasses-free viewing - using autostereoscopic screens - is not coming soon to the home market.
Even if consumers don't rush out to buy new 3D TVs and even if "Avatar" underwhelms at the box office, 2010 will still likely be a big year for 3D, predicted James Stewart, a producer and director of content with the Canadian Geneva Film company.
"There are so many different players right now pushing 3D or heavily invested in 3D - namely all the other studios - so they aren't really relying on 'Avatar,"' he said.
"Even if 'Avatar' was a medium-sized hit I don't think it would matter, if it was an 'Ishtar', a good flop, I'm not sure how people would react to that - but I don't think that's really possible."
Stewart said his discussions with Canadian broadcasters suggest they're not close to getting on the 3D bandwagon but he believes a flood of content on Blu-ray will be released as soon as the new TVs hit the market. He said there's no limit to what can be delivered in 3D, and in fact, he believes it makes sense for everything to be in 3D eventually.
"It's a very exciting time right now, we're standing on the cusp of the 3D-ization of media," he said.
"When people ask me is all media going to be in 3D in the future I say yes ... that's the way our eyes actually see everything anyway so it's a very obvious way to see media."