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How far away is Glasses-Free 3D?

Jan 11 2011, 6:47pm CST | by , in News | CES

How far away is Glasses-Free 3D?
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Sony's 46" and 55" glasses-free 3D TVs are gorgeous...but they're also a pipe dream.

As Mark noted earlier today, the 3D offerings at CES 2011 were a bit of a mess. The big manufacturers were obviously still reeling from the news that 2010 3D TV sales were crappy. The reason behind the slump is easy to see...and nigh-impossible to combat.

People don't like wearing glasses. That's why contacts are so popular, why laser eye surgery is so huge, and why bespectacled kids in the 50's got wailed on at the playground.

Anyone with 2/3rds, or even half, of a brain can see that glasses-free is the only way for 3D to even approach ubiquity. But current glasses-free 3D has some major issues. You have to stand in very specific spots- the 20" displays on the open floor had little footprints marked out for observers. And I'd imagine cost is a factor, although I don't have any hard data there.

On Press Day I ended up scarfing down lunch with a 3D TV engineer from [Unnamed Manufacturer], who estimated 2-3 years before large glasses-free TVs without "dead zones" became feasible. But I heard a somewhat different story at Sony's booth.

They had 46" and 55" glasses-free 3Ds set aside in little covered booths. I had a chance to look at both- and I came away duly impressed. Image quality was great and, when I stood in the wrong place for 3D, it just looked like a normal HD screen. Finding the "right spot" wasn't hard either, and these things worked for at least five or six people.

But, before I could get too excited, Sony's rep warned us that their engineers put large glasses-free displays in the same category as "jetpacks and flying cars". He then added that the first active-shutter lenses were debuted about 12 years before they saw mass release. We might be in for the same sort of wait for glasses-free.

If so, the industry is going to have a hard time keeping 3D on life-support until then. Even with two more Avatar movies on the way.

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