Virgin launches 3D TV ahead of rival BSkyB

But Sky's offering includes broader bouquet of programs

LONDON -- In the race to launch 3D television in the U.K., Virgin Media has emerged as the surprise winner -- although compared to arch-rival BSkyB, its offering is somewhat slim-line.

The British cable group has stolen a two-day march on BSkyB, by announcing the launch of a new 3D-ready set top box allowing its customers access to On-Demand movies from today.

With special 3D glasses, Virgin customers with the right set top box will be able to watch Brit flick "StreetDance 3D" at £5.99 ($9.45) for a 24-hour rental as well as upcoming titles including "Garfield's Pet Force 3D," "Disney's A Christmas Carol 3D" and "Step Up 3D" in the next few months.

Virgin Media executive director of digital entertainment Cindy Rose promised that the launch would open the way to "eye-popping movies" for all the family.

Despite its audacious timing, Virgin's 3D offering still falls someway behind its rival's offering, which will roll out in two days time.

Sky is offering sport, movies, arts, entertainment and documentaries at no extra cost to its HD and top-tier customers, including an average of three live sporting events each week. The service is compatible with its existing set top boxes.

Sky has made a significant investment into 3D filming and has run a series of test broadcasts over the past 12 months including rock concerts, ballet performances, Premier League soccer matches and live Ryder Cup Golf.

In terms of movies it will launch with a lineup including "Ice Age; Dawn of The Dinosaurs," which airs over the launch weekend, following by "Monsters vs Aliens," "Coraline," "Alice In Wonderland," "Bolt," and "Fly Me To The Moon."

"StreetDance U.K.," "Garfield's Pet Force," "Step Up 3" and "A Christmas Carol" will be available on pay-per-view.

"Sky 3D will totally change the way entertainment is viewed in homes across the country," said John Cassy, Sky 3D's channel director.

"The launch of the channel is the just the beginning, 3D has arrived and will change TV forever."