Hollywood may be steadily producing 3D films, but in Japan, 2D domestic pics still dominate at the B.O.

The only local 3D pic thus far is distrib Toho’s “Umizaru 3: The Last Message,” the latest installment (skedded for release in September) in the action series featuring the Japan Coast Guard.

A variety of other players are, however, rolling the dice by investing in a number of 3D technologies in hopes of hitting it big.

In July, Imax signed a deal with exhib United Cinemas to outfit as many as five theaters with its digital projection technology in 3D, a move that will up the company’s 3D screen total in Japan to eight by the end of the year. Two theaters are expected to be ready before the unspooling of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” in November.

Larry O’Reilly, executive vice president of theater development at Imax, explains that positive B.O. performance at existing theaters warranted additional installations.

“United Cinemas wanted to make sure that they could offer this experience and protect the trade area around the top performing locations,” he says.

A month before, satellite broadcasting company SKY Perfect JSAT launched channel Sukachan 3D169, Japan’s first dedicated 3D channel, whose lineup to date has included pop concerts, World Cup soccer matches and baseball games featuring the immensely popular Yomiuri Giants.

Sukachan’s programming is viewable with special glasses on 3D-ready televisions. Yet sales for those systems have been anything but spectacular. Business newspaper Nikkei reported earlier this month that Sony’s Bravia 40-inch and Panasonic’s Viera 50-inch models, which retail for between 30% and 50% more than comparable 2D systems, have seen a 20% drop in prices since their debuts in the spring.

The world of gaming is expected to be a driver for 3D TV. Sony began offering 3D support for popular PlayStation 3 games “Super Stardust HD,” “Wipeout HD” and “Pain” in June. Experts, however, are skeptical of the impact such games can have.

Says James Mielke, a producer at digital content company Q Entertainment in Tokyo: “3D really needs killer content designed for 3D, not just regular games with 3D support slapped on. I want to see dynamic architecture designed as a 3D showcase and games that do things in 3D that can’t be done normally.”

Also making a 3D play in consumer electronics is Sharp, which announced early this month it would enter the cluttered smartphone market before year’s end with a 3D model that uses a panel technology similar to that of the Nintendo 3DS.

The phone does not require special glasses. A sense of depth is established by the utilization of a barrier to direct separate images to the right and left eyes, a facet that is only possible from set distances and angles, as is the case with handheld devices like mobile phones. In 2002, Sharp released a 3D phone that was beset with problems related to picture quality, brightness and thickness of the modules — all issues the company believes now it has overcome.

Explains Sharp’s Miyuki Nakayama: “3D technology is not a new technology, but the advancement in display technology has opened up more potential for the new applications in entertainment and commercial fields.”