Japan and Korea Square Off in 3DTV

"2010 is the first year of the 3D TV era, and we will command the top share in 3D TV sales." The declaration was made by Shigeru Kumekawa of Sony Marketing (Japan) at a domestic press conference held on March 9, 2010. Sony was announcing eight new LCD TVs, all supporting three-dimensional (3D) graphics, ranging from 40 to 60 inches in screen size. The cheapest model, a 40-inch design with no 3D viewing glasses including, had a target price of 220,000 yen (US$2360).

Domestic sale will begin for selected models on June 10, 2010, with roughly simultaneous release in European and American markets. "Our sales target for fiscal 2010 is at lease 25 million LCD TVs in all, with about 10% of those 3D," revealed Yoshihisa Ishida of the firm.

Competition in the 3D TV market has intensified rapidly in 2010. Samsung Electronics (Korea) and Panasonic (Japan) have been selling 3D TVs since February or March 2010, well in advance of Sony. On March 9, Samsung was the first to release a 3D TV in the United States, making a major move in the all-important United States that helps the company maintain its top share in the TV market. In July 2010 the company plans to begin releasing a series of 15 models, both LCD and plasma display panel (PDP) designs. The wide selection of models is intended to rapidly gain them market share. The 46-inch LCD uses a cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) backlight, but at US$1699.99 is will be the least expensive of any on the market, putting Samsung in the lead as far as price.

Panasonic also released a 3D-capable PDP TV in the United States, on March 10. The company offers only a 50-inch model now, but plans to gradually expand the line to including sets between 54 and 65 inches. The 50-inch TV goes for US$2499.95.

In August 2010 VIZIO (United States), a strong contender for the top share of the US TV market, will also release a 3D model. With an established policy of low prices, the firm's entry into the field will no doubt further intensify the price war.

Home-use 3D TVs with Full-HD imagery as announced by major manufacturers (click to enlarge)

Improved Image Quality through Reduced Crosstalk
Japanese manufacturers who cannot win out through sheer price competition are instead leveraging their technological expertise. Television manufacturers have adopted the frame sequential method for 3D imagery, combining a high display drive rate with active-matrix LCD shutter glasses. The image is switched between left and right eyes each frame, at full-high definition (HD) resolution (1920 pixels × 1080 pixels), and the left- and right-eye lenses of the LCD glasses are shuttered simultaneously to create the 3D image.

TVs made to use this technique, however, have a technical problem: crosstalk occurring when left- and right-eye images appear to overlap. Manufacturers developing 3D-capable TVs have positioned the resolution of this crosstalk as a key point in differentiating their sets from those of the competition.

LCD panels are displays with long hold times (emission and residual image time), and as such as susceptible to crosstalk. Sony boosted the panel drive frequency to 240Hz in an effort to minimize crosstalk, as well as improving the LCD backlight emission method.

Concretely, assuming the input 3D content signal is 60 frames/s for each eye, each frame is actually displayed twice (Fig.1). The LED backlight is turned on only in the regions visible to a single eye for a given frame. LED emission efficiency, however, has been boosted higher than for standard 2D imagery. A source at Sony explains this approach minimizes crosstalk without sacrificing brightness.

Fig.1 - Reducing Crosstalk with 240Hz Drive (click to enlarge)

Panasonic, on the other hand, selected a PDP display for its short pixel emission and residual image times, thereby gaining an advantage over LCD TVs. The company made other modifications in the commercial design to further reduce crosstalk.

Samsung has not divulged details of its technology, but it does use the same 240Hz drive for its LCD TV as Sony. It is likely the firm has implemented some measures to control crosstalk. Unless domestic TV manufacturers can provide concrete performance indices to consumers, 3D TVs will descend into mere price competition and commoditization will accelerate.

By Shinya Saeki, Nikkei Electronics Asia