Grab your goggles, 3-D films have hit TV

Forget your Rubik's Cube and Sony Walkman: Dan Symmes has seen the future - and it's 3-D TV.

Or can several million viewers be wrong?

Mr. Symmes is banking time and money that they're not. 3-D TV may just become the next national fad, if he has anything to say about it. Which he does.

Right now his company, 3D Video Corporation in North Hollywood, Calif., is the only business churning out 3-D movies suitable for television broadcast. Yes , folks, the wonder that is technology has made it possible to bring ''House of Wax,'' ''Gorilla at Large,'' and all those other 3-D horror movie greats of the 1950s right into your living room. And while the characters might not be literally jumping off the screen at you, they are certainly more animated than their plots.

So far nearly 50 local TV stations across the country have taken the bait. If you happen to be one of the millions within broadcast range, you may just have had your summer of Dukes of Hazzard reruns enlivened by some thing called the ''Creature from the Black Lagoon.''

Which is apparently turning out to be the lesser of two evils. Viewer response to the 3-D reruns has so far been ''phenomenal'' according to the local stations. WGNO-TV in New Orleans, the first station in the country to take the 3 -D plunge, broke all previous viewer records when its February broadcast of ''Revenge of the Creature'' ran away with an unprecedented 40 percent share of the audience.

Other stations are just as enthusiastic. KHJ-TV, Los Angeles said its audience share for a recent 3-D broadcast of the ''Mad Magician'' was ''excellent.'' And in Boston, the first 3-D ratings war occurred between two local stations early this month: ''Gorilla at Large'' was pitted against ''Revenge of the Creature.'' Sales of the inexpensive 3-D glasses needed to view the movies were reportedly in the millions. ''We were hoping people would hold 3 -D movie parties,'' said a spokeswoman for WSBK-TV, the sponsor of ''Gorilla at Large.''

Yet while the independent stations seem fast off the mark with praise for the audience-drawing power of the 3-D movies, they are just as quick to concede the movies themselves are a gimmick.

''It's an event in the middle of a summer of reruns,'' said Howard Stevens, program manager for WLVI-TV in Boston. ''If it works, we might try more, but right now we have no plans to broadcast another one.''

''We view it more as a fad than anything,'' says Janice Stillman of WGNO-TV New Orleans. And despite some industry talk about possible expansion of the 3-D video market into network television, most observers remain skeptical.

''It's nothing more than a gimmick,'' says Tony Hoffman, a financial analyst with A. G. Becker & Co., a brokerage house. ''Because people are curious, (stations) know they can get a blockbuster rating, but once you've shown it, that's it. It's simply a novelty.''

Other observers raise more pragmatic questions about a national market for 3 -D TV. Some point to the limited number of original 3-D movies (20 or 25 films) suitable for videotape conversion. Others question the quality of the videotapes and the viability of getting the 3-D eyeglasses (with one red lense and one blue lense), into the hand of every viewer.

Yet despite the skepticism and cries of ''fad,'' the two-year-old technology behind 3-D video is not a gimmick. Where the old 1950s movies required a double film strip and a polarizing lens, the new video technique relies upon a single color-coded tape. Special eye glasses are still needed to produce the three-dimensional effect. But unlike the earlier films, the 3-D video tape can be also be shown without the glasses as a regular, two-dimensional movie. The video technology also makes it possible to shoot live shows in 3-D. One show has already been shot in San Francisco and another taped in Los Angeles.

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