JVC's GS-TD1 Stereo Camcorder

News reports from the Consumer Electronics Show indicate that 3D is a big topic of discussion this year, although sales of 3D TV sets are disappointing. What is getting the attention in 3D? 3D cameras, of course. Sony, Panasonic, and JVC all showed consumer-friendly 3D cameras at the show.

Panasonic went the route of creating an optional “3D Conversion Lens,” the CW-CLT1, that turns two different 1080/60p camcorders into stereo 3D units. While Panasonic’s cameras still have a single imager to capture the stereo content, JVC touted its GS-TD1, which has two 3.32 megapixel CMOS sensors built in, capturing both right-eye and left-eye images at 1080i in something JVC calls “LR Independent Format.” No word on whether that new format complicates working with the files later — the bundled Everio MediaBrowser software for Windows will apparently automate sharing the videos via YouTube’s 3D player — but the camcorder also shoots in the more common, reduced-resolution side-by-side 3D format. The 3.5-inch LCD touch panel offers glasses-free stereo playback.

Sony has a similar model, the HDR-TD10, with double CMOS image sensors, a 3.5-inch glasses-free 3D touch screen, and 64 GB of flash memory. (In fact, it looks like the official announcement of Sony’s camera beat JVC to the punch by one day.)

JVC’s GS-TD1 ships in March and will cost $1999.95, and Sony’s HDR-TD10 will ship in April for “about $1500.” Panasonic was stingy with that kind of detail, saying in a press release that “pricing and availability [of the new cameras] will be announced 30 days prior to shipping date.”

But the coolest 3D camera at the show may be the Sony Bloggie MHS-FS3, billed as “the world’s first HD 3D pocket camera.” Packing 8 GB of on-board memory, the MHS-FS3 will ship in April for “about $250.” It has two lenses and two sensors, and content can be played back on the camera’s glasses-free 2.4-inch LCD screen.

Only time will tell whether any of these cameras produce good enough images for use by pros as 3D crash cams, but don’t rule them out.

The other super-hot consumer 3D product is the forthcoming Nintendo 3DS, a handheld stereo-3D gaming system that was reportedly being shown off the show floor. Taking into account the voluminous CES hype related to 4G data networks, it looks like CES this year is all about small-screen experiences, rather than big-screen TVs. Hollywood studios seemed to acknowledge as much with the announcement that a coalition of studios — Disney being the most notably absent — had lined up behind UltraViolet, a new system designed to allow consumers to watch movies they purchase on multiple platforms, including PCs, videogame consoles, and phones. (Well, we’ll see how that works out.)

Still, there may be another interesting inversion going on with digital media. Just as the portability of MP3 players dumped the music industry’s expensive new high-res formats (DVD-Audio and SACD) into the dustbin of history, 3D on the go may be a more compelling technology than 3D in the living room. That’s because glasses-free 3D is much more practical on small screens than large. Will the iPhone 5, or something like it, become the first blockbuster consumer platform for 3D stereo?