Is 3D really going to change the way we watch TV? And, if less than 1% of U.S. households* own a 3D television today why even report on it? Because like it or not 3D is the future of TV. We just don’t know what format it will be.
If you attended CES 2011 you would have been fully immersed in 3D innovations amidst the tablet hype and drooling over TV/internet integration. This year there were quite a few companies showing off 3D sets in all different sizes and formats, along with new innovations in eyewear.
Active (or shutter) glasses were on display again, but this time the glasses were available in more comfortable models. Passive 3D televisions were also showcased, providing a brighter image through polarized 3D glasses that cost a tenth of what shutter glasses cost. LG boasted their passive Cinema 3D glasses work on all their 3D sets. More importantly glasses-free 3D sets, sometimes called “naked eye 3D TVs” were also presented and were closely watched.
Both Toshiba and Sony presented their glasses-free 3D TVs. Impressive? Yes. As good as active? Not really. They still lack depth and contrast. They almost look as if they are waiting for you to put on 3D glasses. The “naked-eye” 3D TVs also have a very limited viewing range in order to see the 3D effect. And, they are still very expensive.
But for many, maybe even the consumer mass, the convenience of not wearing glasses outweighs the demand for a better image. For this reason you can guarantee glasses-free 3D television will be the only format that hits the mass consumer market.
Look at the demand for the convenient streaming Netflix content most of which looks terrible on an HDTV. And remember, the VHS beat out the higher quality Beta tape mainly because of practicality.
Furthermore, as more and more 3D content is created (Sony claims about 100 titles by the end of this year), there will be a demand for it. Right now, the demand pretty much starts and ends with Avatar in 3D. Yeah, the ESPN 3D broadcasts are pretty good and some of the animated films are fun to watch. But the only reason why you would spend $2k on a 3D system right now is to pop in Avatar — which, by the way, may even look better at home than in theaters.
So as more and more 3D content is created the need to wear eyewear will be increased. (We are, by the way, watching more television than ever.) Now, picture in your head a nation of 300 million people all wearing dorky 3D glasses in front of their TVs? Not going to happen. This isn’t the Matrix. The future is in glasses-free 3D.
Once designers and engineers improve the viewing radius of naked eye 3D TVs, and improve the picture to the point where it comes much closer to the higher quality active 3D technology, you will see more consumer interest. Of course the prices will have to come down.
Sure, you can make designer 3D eyewear (like Oakley’s Gascan sunglasses) or develop polarizing contact lenses that might work with 3D TVs. Heck, developers are even working on semi-transparent LEDs mounted on contacts that will display images on your retinas. But really the simplicity and the immediacy of seeing a 3D image without digging through your couch cushions for eyewear will go a long way in determining what will be “the chosen” 3D format of the future.
* Leichtman Research Group via Home Media Magazine