MIAMI — Net Element wants to be ready for the day when 3-D videos on the Web are as common as cute kittens on YouTube.
Richard Lappenbusch knows the online media company he leads is ahead of its time as staff dabble in 3-D video, waiting for consumer demand for 3-D-compatible computers to grow.
The young company is an innovator in the online video space, and Lappenbusch — a former Microsoft executive who was hired as president in February — says he can pull that off in Miami, though the city is far from a front-runner in technology or film.
"It is very early in this," Lappenbusch said. "We want to stake a claim and experiment and really drive leadership in this area."
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That includes sticking 3-D cameras on Formula 1 cars for its Motorsport.com Web site, a video hub for racing fans. And letting independent filmmakers upload 3-D movies to its newly acquired OpenFilm.com, which has more than 8,000 videos submitted from Spielbergs-in-training.
Net Element also has departments ready to make deals in 3-D Web advertising.
To further add to the 3-D fervor, Net Element is in the process of organizing a 3-D film festival in Miami this winter.
The hurdles are plenty for Net Element's 3-D ambitions. Although a few computers now play 3-D movies — including the Sony Vaio 3D (retailing at $2,000) and the HP Envy 3D ($1,700) — the industry has not formulated standards for 3-D videos online with various technologies.
Watching video on the Web today is pretty much a seamless experience no matter what system is used. That standardization is what is necessary in the new 3-D online frontier, said consumer technology analyst Ross Rubin at NPD Group. No operating system creators have come forth to commit strongly to specific 3-D formats, he said.
"Without that kind of standardization, developers have to bet on certain brands or certain hardware configurations," Rubin said.
That means when Net Element launches 3-D videos on Motorsport.com this fall, it'll have to format them for multiple 3-D-viewing technologies: the cheaper plastic glasses and the electronic active-shutter glasses — as well as standard 2-D video. That extra formatting is costly. Gathering staff that can understand how to shoot and edit in 3-D is also expensive.
Reducing all those costs to scale, "that's the big challenge to making this work," Lappenbusch said.
Shooting a movie or TV show in 3-D can add 20 percent to 100 percent of the budget, according to a Forrester Research report in April. To justify the cost, the content must be compelling enough to draw large audiences.
"With OpenFilm, we started to see organic demand to post 3-D content," Lappenbusch said. "We took that to the next stage: If people have demand here, they may have interest in viewership" on Motorsport.com.
Lappenbusch puts the sales of 3-D-supported computers at about 2 million.
"Probably holiday season this year is when you will see non-gamers, non-techies really getting into it," he said.