THE FIRST 3-D movie debuted way back in the silent era - 1922's "The Power of Love."

And boomers might recall that really big wave of 3-D mania in the 1950s, when Superman first came flying off the pages of DC Comics, and movie hits like "Creature from the Black Lagoon" scared the bejabbers out of theatergoers.

Still, it's more than fair to declare today's 3-D mania a new thing.

Digital, high-definition technology has radically improved image capture and delivery. And various forms of clear-lens 3-D glasses have replaced those horrible cardboard specs with color-shifting, headache-inducing red and blue/green lenses.

This month, depth-defying views of real and imagined worlds will get in our faces in ways expected and surprising - including the first application of modern 3-D tech in a newspaper, coming atcha right here in Philadelphia this weekend.

TV TECH: While Samsung pretty much had the 3-D TV business to itself for a couple of months with its first LCD-based 3-D models, Sony and LG now have product in the pipeline.

And Panasonic is getting serious this month with wide delivery of four models using plasma-technology, which Consumer Reports recently found better suited to showcasing the complexities of 3-D delivered via Blu-ray and cable/satellite-TV channels.

I know Panasonic is in the game because a long-promised 50-inch review unit and companion 3-D Blu-ray player showed up at my door just yesterday.

I'll hit you with a full report in a week or two. But let me just say two things after a hard day's night of viewing. The picture is amazing, nigh on to perfect with both 3-D and conventional content. I just wish Panny had sent me a 54- or 58-inch to review, 'cause bigger is definitely better for 3-D viewing.

3-D COMPUTER STYLE: Do most of your TV-watching and game-playing on a computer? Nvidia has great news for you. A just-announced crop of 3-D-ready notebook and desktop PCs fitted with higher-resolution screens, special shutter glasses and Nvidia's "3D Vision"-compliant graphics chips are on the way from makers like Acer, Asus and Toshiba this fall, with prices starting at $1,500.

All will unlock the 3-D beasts hiding in literally hundreds of DirectX-coded PC games, on 3-D Blu-rays and even at YouTube.

Nvidia also has new computer-upgrade kits priced at $200 to $600, and it's working to make its glasses compatible (a burning issue) with Panasonic's 3-D TVs.

SOFTWARE GAMESMANSHIP: Even "Avatar" producer Jon Landau argues that 3-D video games, rather than movies, will be the biggest "driver" of the spatial-entertainment revolution, at least in the short run.

A new firmware upgrade for the PlayStation 3 makes that system 3-D game-play ready (an upgrade for 3-D Blu-ray movies is coming). And the first downloadable 3-D games for the PS3 - "Wipeout HD," "MotorStorm 2," "Mr. Pain" and "StarStrike HD" - go on sale in Japan tomorrow.

At next week's E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) game show in L.A., Sony is expected to announce the first seven 3-D titles for midyear release on the PS3 system in the U.S., with Naughty Dog's "Uncharted 2" and Sony Studios' "God of War III" among them.

Nintendo is banking on 3-D to invigorate its handheld-game-system business, using E3 to introduce a portable system likely to be called 3DS and set for sale by year's end. It boasts an upgraded microprocessor (more powerful than the one in the Wii) and a new-age, "auto-stereoscopic" screen that allows one player to enjoy depth perspective without glasses.

FRIDAY ON OUR MIND: ESPN was out of the gate early with high definition, and the sports giant leaps into the next big thing Friday morning, introducing the event-driven ESPN 3-D channel with a live, 9:30 a.m. (East Coast time) feed of the first 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer game, Mexico vs. (tournament host) South Africa.

Twenty-four more FIFA matches will follow, one per day, with no repeats, sorry, although some of the 75 other sporting events booked for this year in 3-D will have replays. DirecTV and Comcast will be on board with ESPN 3D from Day 1.

Later this month, DirecTV really seizes the moment and leadership position with the launch of three 3-D channels on its own, detailed exec Steven Roberts yesterday.

HD subscribers will pay no more for DirecTV's (and probably the world's) first 24/7 3-D channel, N3D, which will carry "a plethora of content - movies, concerts, sports, the arts, documentaries and even game shows."

An uptick of $1 (over normal HD movie charges) will buy you a 3-D movie on the DirecTV Cinema 3D channel. A video-on-demand channel downloading 3-D content through a DirecTV DVR's Internet connection also is in the offing at month's end.

MOVIE MANIA: With the count of U.S. 3-D theaters now "north of 4,000" and growing by "200-250 a week" (per DreamWorks exec Jeffrey Katzenberg), movie studios have ramped up production of in-your-face movies. Ninety are likely to land this year and next. This November, look for another big Disney/Pixar project, "Tangled" (the Rapunzel story), and DreamWorks Animation's superhero satire "MegaMind."

For 2011, studios also are prepping 3-D conversions of classics like "Star Wars" and the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, along with newbies like Sony's "The Green Hornet," with Seth Rogen as our hero, and Martin Scorsese's debut in the medium, "Hugo Cabret."

Looks as if early adopters of 3-D Blu-ray players will be lucky to nab just a dozen platters to show off this year on their new 3-D TVs. Controversially, some studios have signed exclusivity deals with 3-D TV makers that will limit distribution of hot 3-D Blu-ray titles.

You want "Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs" or "Coraline" in all their depth and glory? Better buy a Panasonic. Rumor has it that the 3-D home version of "Avatar" will also be a Panny-demonium-causing exclusive come November.

You want the new "Alice in Wonderland"? Sony seems to have a lock on that hottie for its set buyers this year, along with exclusive PS3 3-D games.

Samsung, meanwhile, cornered the early market for DreamWorks' "Monsters vs. Aliens" and may do the same for "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Shrek Forever After."

HOT OFF THE PRESSES: New 3-D tech is about to debut in print, too. This Sunday, buyers of the Philadelphia Inquirer will see the first U.S. newspaper application of a contemporary 3-D design and printing technique called ChromaDepth, likewise deploying clear glasses, with one pair supplied with each paper, courtesy of Best Buy.

You'll also be able to enjoy some of the content - like 3-D images of Philadelphia - posted online at www.philly.com on Sunday and Monday.

But other goodies fine-tuned by the paper's media and research labs will be print exclusives, including a 3-D poster of the Phillies' perfect pitcher, Roy Halladay, a Best Buy cover wrapper and an eight-page section with jump-out ads from Macy's, Bloomingdale's, ING Direct, HP and the Pennsylvania Lottery.

"It's exciting, timely, innovative - and we think it's great for our readers, great for our visitors to philly.com and great for our advertisers," enthused Ed Mahlman, chief marketing officer for the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com.

And rather miraculously, this 3-D print process looks good and kinda spatial/special even without the specs. See for yourself.

Send e-mail to takiffj@phillynews.com.