Philips 3DTV

Philips has developed an auto-stereoscopic 3-D technology, that is one that doesn't require glasses to resolve separate left and right eye images. It uses a tiny array of lenses carefully overlaid on an LCD panel to direct each eye to the subpixels rendered by a special chip and defined by the company's so-called 2-D+depth format.

Philips is selling a 42-inch display, a 3x3 display wall using the screens and tools to create stereo 3-D ads into this market. But the big kahuna is the digital TV market where some hope stereo 3-D is the next big thing after high definition. In an effort to jump start that market, Philips has licensed its technology to one unnamed module maker and is in talks with a second one.

"We expect LCD modules available to the mass market at the end of 2010 and TVs based on them sometime after that," said Martin Oerder.

Meanwhile, Philips is refining the underlying technology to meet the requirements of tomorrow's TVs. For instance, the current version only looks good in about nine viewable areas called cones. When watchers move between those cones, the image is blurred.

The next iteration of the technology will use fewer, larger cones and have smaller transition areas. It may also sport an ability to focus the lens arrays on a user's position by responding to a click of a remote or noticing their position with an embedded camera.

The lens arrays that enable stereo 3-D also degrade a set's resolution. So the upgrade will also sport an ability to switch off the lens array so 2-D content can be viewed at its full resolution.

Philips has also announced a 56-inch 3-D screen based on a so-called 4K display that shows a whopping 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. Even with the lens array, the display can show a full 1080-progressive picture, the gold standard for today's HD sets.

But the biggest challenge of all is getting Hollywood to adopt the Philips 2D+depth format. So far the company has no tools to create professional films in the format, though it is working on such tools and talking to third parties about developing them.

"I believe some day 100 percent of TVs will have stereo 3-D, just as today they all have color," said Oerder. "But it will take some time."

By Rick Merritt, EE Times