Sharp's Next-Gen Mobile Touchscreens: 3-D for the Naked Eye
3-D is gaining traction in the entertainment industry, with movies, televisions and DVDs drawing the interest of consumers. Mobile devices are next. Sharp claims that technology advances have vastly improved 3-D image quality on the small screen, and it will be making new 3-D LCD touchscreens available for a variety of devices. No special glasses are required.
Japanese electronics giant Sharp on Friday unveiled a liquid crystal display (LCD) touchscreen that lets viewers see three-dimensional images without special glasses.
That announcement kicked off speculation that the screen will be used in Nintendo's forthcoming 3DS game console, which will have the same kind of 3-D capability.
Sharp plans to offer mobile devices ranging from phones to computers equipped with the 3-D screens.
Diving into Sharp's 3-D
Sharp, which has been working on 3-D products since 2002, said it has improved image quality to the point where it can launch the next generation of 3-D screens. Its new screen will let users see 3-D images from a distance of 12 inches without requiring special glasses.
Sharp is using parallax to achieve this effect. Parallax is a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight.
One example of parallax can be seen in automobile speedometers with needle gauges. When viewed from the front, the needle points to a particular number, say 60, indicating a speed of 60 miles per hour; but when viewed from the side, it will appear to be to the left or right of that number depending on whether the viewer is to the right or left of the driver's seat.
The technologies that let viewers see 3-D images without special glasses are called "autostereoscopic displays." One method requires lenticular lenses. These consist of an array of magnifying lenses designed so the viewer sees different images when looking at them from different angles. This method doesn't rely on the display to be of a particular thickness. Sharp is not using this approach, however.
The other method, which uses parallax barriers, is the one Sharp is using for its new touchscreens. A parallax barrier consists of a layer of material with a series of fine slits that effectively chop up the image, so each of the viewer's eyes sees a different set of pixels.
The parallax barrier system is already used in ordinary LCDs to create a sense of depth. However, the conventional system does not display high-quality images in 3-D mode, according to Sharp.
Advances in CG-Silicon technology increased brightness and lowered crosstalk -- double images created by overlapping of left and right images. Those advances, together with optimization of the parallax barrier system, resulted in significantly improved image quality in Sharp's new 3-D LCD, the company said.
Fun and Games with 3-D
The entertainment industry is leading the move toward 3-D. Video game developers are bringing out 3-D games to stay in their highly competitive industry, while movie makers have begun bringing out 3-D blockbusters. Manufacturers of home theaters, television sets and DVD players are also beginning to incorporate 3-D into their products, and the technology was one of the hottest topics at the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas in January.
This may lead mobile phone manufacturers to push strongly into the market.
Mobile phones with 3-D screens aren't new. Sharp launched a 3-D mobile phone in Japan in 2003; Samsung brought one out in 2007; and Hitachi released one in 2009. However, they failed to take off, possibly because they were ahead of their time.
Laptops with 3-D screens have also been around for awhile. Sharp introduced the Actius AL3D notebook in 2005; in October of 2009, Acer unveiled its Aspire 5783DG notebook with 3-D viewing technology.
"We've had 3-D mobile phones before, but there just wasn't the content," Allen Nogee, a principal analyst at In-Stat, pointed out. "Now that the movie companies are big into it and there are going to be 3-D DVDs, it does seem natural for the technology to roll down to the mobile phone," he told TechNewsWorld.
The cost of 3-D technology was another limiting factor, Neil Shah, an analyst at Strategy Analytics, told TechNewsWorld. However, that situation will change.
"With the wider availability of content and increased scale of distribution, costs will go down over the next few years," he predicted.
Making 3-D Work for Mobile Phones
Gaming will probably drive the adoption of 3-D on mobile phones, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
"Get 3-D on a smartphone or a small device like the Dell Streak and they could be pretty hot for gaming and other kinds of 3-D activities," Enderle told TechNewsWorld.
The Dell Streak is a mobile Internet device that will run Android 2.0 and be able to access the Internet and email over 3G wireless services. It will have a five-inch touchscreen and offer WiFi and Bluetooth.
However, 3-D screens won't be widely available on mobile phones for quite awhile.
"We're at the stage where some movies are in 3-D; we'll see 3-D in more movies in the next two to three years," In-Stat's Nogee explained. "It's going to be two, three, maybe four years before most people have 3-D TVs, and it'll probably be even longer before they care about watching movies and playing games in 3-D on the mobile phone."
Some of the available content for smartphones may have to be reworked.
"You could really make the user interface look very rich with 3-D, but you really have to think about the environment and what you have to do to make it compelling," Enderle said.
"You can't just take something that was developed for 2-D and adapt it for 3-D," he pointed out. "That won't work."
However, PC games might be easily reformatted for 3-D. "Most PC games are written for depth, which makes it easy to translate them into 3-D," Enderle said.
Software to do this is already available. French game developer Darkworks, whose games include "Cold Fear," announced its TriOviz for Games software development kit that lets developers convert 2D games into 3-D ones. It announced this at the Game Developers' Conference held in March in San Francisco.