Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Making 3D TV Practical

You'd have to be living under the proverbial rock to not be aware of the explosion in 3D technology, first in theaters and, more recently, at home. However, a lot of work needs to be done in order to make consumer 3D more practical. Here are three examples:
  • 3D sets are far more expensive than their 2D equivalents. For example, the cheapest 3D set that Best Buy current has in the U.S. is a 40" Samsung model that sells for $1,800. A roughly equivalent 2D Samsung model can be had for $1,080.00, and if you're willing to settle for a 42" 2D Vizio from Walmart that's even better equipped than the Samsung, you can get it for $900. Best Buy's prices run as high as $6,300 for a Samsung 55" 3D model.
  • Viewers need to use 3D glasses in order to see the 3D effect, and every receiver manufacturer has its own format for 3D glasses. Glasses for a Samsung set won't work on a Sony, and vice versa.
  • A small but far from insignificant percentage of 3D viewers get headaches or have other problems when they watch it, due to the refresh/flicker rate. 
There are solutions in the pipeline for all of these problems, but they're going to take some time to implement:
  • Prices for 3D sets will go down as manufacturing quantities go up, but it's unlikely that the price difference between comparable 3D and 2D sets will ever go below $250 or so.
  • The Consumer Electronics Association and a company called XpanD are both working on 3D glasses that will work with any 3D television set.
  • Last week, Toshiba demonstrated a technology that enables viewing 3D video without the use of glasses. (That was far from the first time that 3D without glasses has been demonstrated.) The new technology has a number of shortcomings: It requires three LCD panels to be sandwiched together, which dramatically decreases the brightness of the display, it cuts the resolution of the 3D image by almost 90% compared to the 2D image, and it has nine fixed viewpoints from which a 3D image can be seen. So, it's likely to be years before a 3D technology that doesn't use glasses and is both practical and cost-efficient will be available.
  • The flicker rate issue is going to remain controversial for some time. Most 3D sets currently use a 240Hz refresh rate, and that may be enough to solve the problem for most people.
3D's content production problems are getting solved faster than the problems of viewing 3D in homes, so we may find ourselves with with a lot more content than viewers for quite a while.
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