Toshiba Gambles Its Glasses-Free 3D TV Tech Is Good Enough
Toshiba is showing off the 3D technology it hopes consumers are waiting for at CES this week: glasses-free big screen TVs. The company hasn't solved one big problem with glasses-free 3D, namely the restricted viewing angle, but it apparently believes consumers will prefer that shortcoming to clunky eyewear.
Special glasses to view 3D movies have been around for decades, almost representing a bad theatrical cliche -- rows of eyeglass-clad teens screaming, for instance, as an ax from the latest slasher film comes bolting out of the screen.
With a 3D-equipped laptop today and 3D television on the way, Toshiba is taking the glasses off. At this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the world's sixth largest flat panel TV manufacturer introduces an LCD 3D display that dispenses with the glasses at a 120 Hz refresh rate.
"Toshiba will demonstrate concept models of glasses-free 3D notebook PCs and of tablet PCs running the Android and Windows operating systems," Toshiba spokesperson Eric Paulsen told TechNewsWorld.
"Toshiba will also show how it has realized glasses-free 3D now, and display the world's first commercialized LCD TVs that do away with dedicated glasses," he added. [*Correction - Jan. 5, 2011]
Cozy Seating Required
"Toshiba's glasses-free technology uses a special lens that angles left and right images to each eye, very similar to 3D printed photographs from years ago," said Enderle Group technology analyst Rob Enderle.
A camera above the monitor initiates facial recognition, turning on the 3D effect when a user's eyes properly align with it. Unlike the theater experience, facial alignment is a critical feature of glasses-free 3D -- at least for now. Move too far back or away from the camera, and the monitor reverts to 2D mode, a problem Toshiba techs hope to fix in the near future.
Toshiba glasses-free 3D also suffers from some inappropriate monogamy -- the facial recognition software only recognizes one face at a time, leaving fellow users stuck in 2D.
Compared to using glasses, "you have to be much more centered to the screen to get the right experience," Enderle told TechNewsWorld. "You'll need to get much closer to your family on the TV couch."
With 12-inch and 20-inch glasses-free 3D televisions already on sale in Japan, Sony chief financial officer Masaru Kato said in October that 3D TV sales were trailing an expected target of 2.5 million units sold annually, all of which would lose the company money on its overall television sales.
Nonetheless, Toshiba visual products director Atsushi Murasawa reassured reporters at CES on Tuesday, claiming favorable reactions to the new technology despite the reduced sales projections and the viewing angle problems.
Though Murasawa provided few details about launch dates beyond Japan, Toshiba is unveiling 56- and 65-inch prototype glasses-free 3D TVs at CES. First launch models will reportedly be at least 40 and 50 inches.
"The 'Glasses-less 3D REGZA GL1' TVs are specifically designed for personal use and come in two versions, the 20-inch 20GL1 and the 12-inch 12GL1," Paulsen said.
Toshiba also sells glasses-required 3D technology, primarily for game enthusiasts seeking that unique full-body experience. But glasses are considered part of the problem, even in their much more technologically sophisticated forms.
"Glasses really aren't working out very well, and consensus is that until the glasses go, 3D likely won't take off," Enderle said.
Therein lies a conundrum, however. Glasses provide the moveable 3D feast -- they move with the viewer, thereby avoiding that out-of-range shutdown that toggles glasses-free, facial-recognition driven 3D back into 2D territory.
"Toshiba is going to see if what they have is good enough to make the difference," Enderle explained. "It is risky, given the poor off-center viewing performance."
Risky, but maybe in the end, worth it.
"Someone that figures out how to do glasses-free 3D right could own the next wave of 3D television sets," Enderle said. "There is a lot riding on this."
*ECT News Network editor's note - Jan. 5, 2011: The original publication of this article attributed Toshiba's input to spokesperson Katie Brodahl. The attribution was changed to Toshiba spokesperson Eric Paulsen at the company's request.