I saw four companies displaying glasses-free 3D TV prototypes at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Each used the same approach with technology.
Sony, Toshiba, LG and eLocity each displayed glasses-free 3D televisions using lenticular lens technology. Back in August when Toshiba first announced that they were going to introduce a glasses-free 3D HDTV, I speculated that this is theoretically possible using a lenticular lens to create a 3D effect. It appears that this is the current technology of choice.
A lenticular lens is an overlay that creates an effect where you see different images from slightly different viewing angles. It can be used to make images on book and DVD covers appear to morph into a different image as the image is tilted. It can also be used create the illusion of 3D depth. Depending upon how the lenticular lens is designed, several underlying images can be used to add multiple viewing angles and a series of images. Lenticular lenses have been around since the 1940s.
But if you hate wearing 3D glasses and are looking to purchase a great glasses-free 3D HDTV, don’t hold your breath. All of the protoypes that we saw produced little or a poor 3D effect. A major part of the problem is that lenticular lens technology requires that the viewer be positioned at a precise distance form the display and directly in front of the display. This is called a “sweet spot” and Toshiba and Sony had footprints marked on the floor where the viewer had to stand. Unfortunately, this makes this approach hopelessly unrealistic for home theater applications.
The Sony demonstration was the first that I found. I stood on the footprints marking the sweet spot for several minutes and saw little or no 3D effects from the demonstration. I did not see any ghosting with the Sony demo, but I also didn’t see anything resembling 3D. The Sony demo used a 24.5 inch OLED display and the user is placed perhaps four feet from the screen. The HDTV was placed very low in the demo booth, which may have added to the less than impressive results.
The Toshiba demonstration was the centerpiece of their presence at CES. A long line of people filtered into a booth with multiple displays set up in viewing stalls. Toshiba used larger displays and users were positioned on sweet spot footprints perhaps 6 or 7 feet from the display. I saw both ghosting and fuzzy images with the Toshiba demo.
LG demonstrated a glasses-free 3D TV on the show floor. The demo unit produced a reasonable 3D effect, but only if you stood on the sweet spot directly in front of the HDTV.
A company called Stream TV Networks that offers products under the eLocity brand demonstrated a glasses-free 3D TV in a small viewing room. The reps stressed that their approach to using a lenticular lens overlay offered multiple viewing angles, which makes it better suited for home theater applications. While they did have a few seats in the room, they did not stress the importance of a sweet spot. The demo that I saw had a serious problem with heavy ghosting, but the rep did say that they were awaiting the arrival of a new HDTV that used their latest technology. Unfortunately, that did not arrive before I had to leave Las Vegas. You will probably see some 3D tablet computers using the eLocity approach before the end of 2011, but unless their latest technology produces better results than what I saw in the demo, they do not have a home theater solution to the glasses-free 3D dilemma.
While the idea of glasses-free 3D technology is intriguing, the lenticular lens approach demonstrated thus far is not ready for prime time and has a long way to go before consumers will accept it. Toshiba and others do plan to introduce a range of 3D laptops and tablet computes throughout 2011. Lenticular lens technology will probably work very well with this application due to the user’s close proximity to the display. However, for home theater viewing, it gets a well deserved thumbs down.