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With demise of ESPN 3-D channel, stereoscopic TV may be done

Well, it took three years and lackluster compatible TV set sales, but ESPN — or, more precisely, The Walt Disney Company — has finally decided that viewers are not that interested in 3-D sports in the home. Despite concerns since its official debut in in June 2010 with the soccer World Cup, the all-sports network gave the technology a fair assessment and has confirmed it will now pull the plug by the end of the year.

A lot of money, effort and on-the-field experimentation was expended by the network and others in the production community to make 3-D TV work. That all might be for naught as ESPN was the main driver of the technology for live sports broadcasting.

An ESPN spokesperson said the network would continue to pursue 4K production for sports replays, graphics and other elements in the near future. Also called Ultra HD, the increased resolution is widely seen as a reasonable replacement for 3-D TV in the U.S.

The announcement comes as The Walt Disney Company, parent to ESPN, is reassessing its commitment of extensive resources to support the sports network. Indeed, a number of layoffs at ESPN (roughly 400) were announced a few weeks ago.

“Due to limited viewer adoption of 3-D services to the home, ESPN is discontinuing ESPN 3D,” the network said in a statement. “We are committing our 3-D resources to other products and services that will better serve fans and affiliates. Nobody knows more about sports in 3-D than ESPN, and we will be ready to provide the service to fans if or when 3-D does take off.”

The ESPN 3D channel has existing carriage deals with Comcast, DirecTV, Cablevision Systems, Cox Communications, Verizon FiOS, Bright House Networks and Google Fiber. Most of the operators charge an extra monthly fee for ESPN 3D. Disney also had contracts for ESPN 3D with Charter Communications and AT&T, which dropped the network in 2011 after its debut year, citing a lack of subscriber interest.

Many had reckoned that 3-D TV sales hinged on the availability of content, such as the ESPN 3D channel. With its demise goes another reason for consumers not to buy a new stereoscopic video display.