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Will Autostereoscopic TVs Take over 3D TV?

As much as people (well, not all people, but judging from some of the comments in past blogs, a lot of people) complain about having to wear funky glasses to experience 3D TV, glasses-free systems (autostereoscopic—or AS), at least the two models being sold now in Japan, aren’t selling all that well.

That’s what a report from Bloomberg says about Toshiba’s recent entry into the AS TV market. Late last year the company introduced two AS models, a 20-inch model based on the company’s Cell processor and a 12-inch model that uses some of the Cell features, but not the full monty.

Apparently Toshiba is disappointed in the sales of those two models. The 20-inch TV, according to Bloomberg, has only sold about 500 units at a price of around $2,940, and less of the 12-inch model. Last month at the Consumer Electronics Show, Toshiba showed off larger AS 3D models, but those aren’t expected to ship until much later in the year, and no prices have been announced.

A couple of things come to mind with this news. First, isn’t it obvious that a 20-inch TV, about the size of a nice laptop, is just too small for people? Even in Japan, where smaller homes demand smaller products, a 20-inch 3D TV simply delivers no significant 3D effect to get excited about. I’ve said before that 3D is the feature that makes a 50-inch TV look small. On a small screen 3D looks like a window, not like reality is sitting in your lap—whether that’s actually a good thing is another debate. People go to 3D commercial theaters to get a larger-than-life experience. So why would they settle for a home 3D experience that looks like a ViewMaster.

Next, that 20-inch TV costs nearly $3,000. Panasonic’s top-of-the-line 50-inch plasma can be had for a lot less than that right now. Who’s willing to pay that much for such a small TV just for the benefit of not wearing extra glasses now and then?

And finally, from what I’ve seen so far, autostereoscopic TVs aren’t ready for the market yet. Granted, all the units I’ve seen have been prototypes, and prototypes typically don’t perform as well as finished production models, but even if they did, there are still problems with the concepts. AS TVs work only if you view them in a restricted position—they have a limited sweat spot. The newer technologies may have multiple sweet spots, as did the prototypes that Toshiba showed at CES, but it’s still limited. You can’t just sit yourself on the sofa to watch TV. You have to aim yourself on the sofa.

All of the AS TVs I saw last month looked pixelated. Despite the fact that they were operating on 4K resolution panels, you could still see a slight grid pattern (each viewer does not receive the full 4K resolution). This might be caused by the polarizing filters on the TV that allow you to see the 3D effect without glasses. Whatever the case, those AS 3D TVs simply didn’t look as good as straight-up HDTVs. And that’s a problem. A step forward in technology shouldn’t result in a step backward in image quality.

We’re facing a similar situation with the rise in passive-glasses polarized 3D TVs (film pattern retarder method). They’re cheaper than the active glasses systems, but they sacrifice the resolution. OK, that’s a rant for another day.

Back to the last problem I see with AS TVs. They send the wrong message. With several TV manufacturers showing off glasses-free 3D, and every media outlet talking and writing about how very soon we can all dump the crummy glasses, consumers are getting mixed messages, and I believe they’ll act on those messages by sitting on their hands. Why go out of your way to spend 2K on a 3D TV now when you believe that in another year AS TVs will arrive.

Small screens such as cell phones and hand-held games are another matter, but a TV is an investment you plan to live with for years.

But will large AS TVs take over the market? I don’t think anyone in the industry seriously believes that, as least not in the near future. If Toshiba’s 20-inch TV sells for $3,000, what will a 50- or 60-inch model sell for?

To make any of this work, manufacturers need to stop rushing to show off what they can do, and instead step back to consider what they should do, what their message is and how to pacify, rather than elevate, consumer confusion.

Tags : auto-stereoscopiceditorialglasses freeopiniontoshiba

Discussion:    Add a Comment | Comments 1-2 of 2 | Latest Comment

February 9, 2011 11:16 AM

i hate limited sweat spots...

but seriously, if another type of 3d comes out it will simply show the consumers that they were right in waiting to buy ANY 3d TV. the manufacturers are shooting themselves in the feet.

February 9, 2011 2:07 PM

This is just more of the same. Both sides of the industry should just back off of 3DTV. Keep it as a feature on high end equipment, let the tech trickle down to the low end, and quit selling separate 3D and 2D versions of movies, just have it all on one disc.

The longer they try to differentiate it, the longer people are going to hold off. They had a chance to market it right when it first launched, they could have supported it with content. They didn't, and the narrative got away from them. Now they've put themselves in a hole with the glasses *and* their attempts at solving the problem with the glasses *when the glasses aren't the problem*! The problem with the glasses is that they cost $200 for one person. If they cost $20 for one person, no one would care. And it wouldn't have been more than a little idle bellyaching if the content had been there.

But 3D sat out there dangling with a big price tag and no way to use it for far too long, so people started analyzing it. And glasses become a big deal because people got tired of talking about the lack of content. And the CE industry has fixated on that because they can't light a fire under the content industry.

Just back off and let it trickle in. It's either that or kill it with too much investment that never realizes a return.

Discussion:    Add a Comment | Comments 1-2 of 2 | Latest Comment

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