07/07/2010 10:41 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Con Games: Third Dimension @ Aspen Ideas Fest

(ASPEN, COLORADO)--Back in the day, when men were men and RCA owned NBC, I worked at 30 Rock but once traveled to RCA Labs in Princeton to spend a day living in the future. Only then did I learn one of life's great truisms: that Americans bought new television sets like clockwork every seven years.

That little nugget meant my aha moment arrived at the Aspen Ideas Festival at the Aspen Institute during the 3-D presentation by John Batter and Jim Mainard of Dreamworks Animation SKG, when Batter was asked about the emergence of 3-D television. He said that industry estimates say there will be 4 million sold this year, 15 million next year, and anywhere from 30 to 40 million in 2012. Do the math, and over 50 to 60 million Households Using Television (HUTs) will have high-definition 3-D screens in place within three years.

Apres ca, my brothers, le deluge.

As consumers, our fixation remains on the 3-D movies that have magically appeared on the big screen since Avatar took no prisoners, and that makes for dreamy news at Dreamworks: a 40 to 50 percent premium on 3-D movie tix to begin with, and the creation of a soon-to-be booming aftermarket for old Dreamworks Animation movies, like the first two-thirds of the Shrek series.

"Artistically and financially," Batter said, "it's been a home run."

But the real story in the Dreamworks presentation was in the imminent proliferation of 3-D devices beyond movies. The execs passed around a 3-D camera available right now for purchase at Best Buy for $600. They talked of World Cup 2010 matches shot and broadcast even as we speak in 3-D, and showed a clip from a Black Eyed Peas concert that was, pardon the expression, electrifying. They also ladled praise on the Nintendo 3DS machine meant to build on the 150 million unit installed base of the Nintendo DS system.

When it comes to television technology, the really new new thing on the near horizon--probably within those seven years--are televisions that can literally tell or sense from whence you are watching in your living room. The result: Look Ma, no glasses--because those annoying 3-D horn-rims will no longer be needed. The Nintendo 3DS is already available with no glasses necessary.

Given the slow-motion introduction of digital television and high-def--I first saw an HD demonstration at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in 1981--the embrace of 3-D feels like it will happen overnight, seven years from yesterday, quicker than you can say "Jiminy Crickets."