There's life in 3-D cinema yet.

Shares of digital 3-D projection technologist RealD (NYSE: RLD) are soaring today, gaining as much as 22% on extremely heavy trading volume. Life-sized surprises in last night's third-quarter report jumped out at investors like the silver screen images behind the results.

Sales fell 15% year over year to $49 million, but your average analyst expected just $43 million. The strong revenues filtered all the way down to a bottom-line boost, where RealD saw a GAAP net profit of $0.05 per share. Analysts expected losses of about the same size.

RealD projectors have now been installed in 19,700 screens worldwide, a 74% jump in 12 months. Domestically, you'll find the technology on about 11,500 screens. At last count, American cinemas had installed about 22,000 digital projection systems, covering 58% of all available screens.

Leading theater chains AMC, Regal Entertainment (NYSE: RGC), and Cinemark have committed to RealD in a big way, making it available on 40% of their aggregate screens. That's a big win, considering that competing systems are available from Dolby Laboratories (NYSE: DLB), Sony, and a couple of smaller rivals. RealD claims about a 50% global market share against all these alternatives. Moreover, IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX) provides its own 3-D technology for those larger-than-life screens, so RealD doesn't get to play on those.

On a global level, we have over 60,000 digital screens. That leaves a lot of room for RealD expansion, first as celluloid systems convert into digital, and then as the battle for 3-D share rages on.

Note that RealD doesn't just collect license fees on projector installations, but also grabs a small royalty out of the 3-D box office they generate. 2012 has a downright mouthwatering slate of films coming to the medium, including re-releases of Titanic and the Star Wars saga, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, the rebooted Spider-Man series, and superhero tentpole The Avengers. Not satisfied with just the Marvel action, Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) also churns out 3-D versions of titles from its golden age, including The Little Mermaid and Monsters, Inc.

If that pipeline doesn't set RealD and IMAX up for amazing profits, I don't know what will.

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