Here Comes the Second Wave of 3D

CES hasn’t even officially started yet and some of the biggest news is already seeping out. Last year, active shutter glasses 3D HDTVs were the talk of the town. At this year’s event, 3D will again be near the top of the excitement list, but this time it will be the next wave of 3D technology using passive polarized glasses. And, we are also starting to see the beginnings of the third wave of 3D — no glasses 3D HDTVs.

The big pre-news in passive polarized 3D HDTV is coming from Samsung, Vizio and LG Electronics. Samsung is teaming with RealD to show a passive polarized solution which places a large single-cell LCD in front of the standard FHD LCD panel. The idea is to take the shuttering technology used in the glasses and place it in front of the LCD. This essentially switches the polarization state of the full panel at 240Hz — twice as fast as shutter glasses. Users can wear the same RealD circularly-polarized passive glasses they use in the theater to watch 3D at home.

LG Electronics is betting big on its film-based patterned retarder technology. Working with LG Chemical and LG Display, a film has been developed that has a pattern of left- and right-hand circularly polarization elements that are aligned to the rows of the FHD LCD. This creates a polarized interlaced image. Polarized glasses direct the left and right eye images to the correct eye allowing the brain to fuse these into a 3D image. There is loss of resolution with this approach, but it should be less costly in the long term than adding a second switching panel.

Vizio is apparently embracing the film-based patterned retarder for some screen sizes and a glass-based patterned retarder for other screen sizes — most notably the 65" 16:9 TVs and the CinemaScope 21:9 3D HDTVs. The glass-based patterned retarder operates in the same way as the film-based one, but does add more thickness and weight. AUO developed this approach and has cost-reduced a similar approach pioneered by Arisawa to bring the technology to main-stream TV consumers.

On the no-glasses front, Toshiba will offer 12" and 21" models to consumers and Dimenco is considering offering a 28-view 27" product to consumers. Both of these products offer a level of performance, about 1280 x 720 resolution per view, that has been unobtainable so far.

As shown in the graphic, we see at least three waves of 3D technology coming in the next few years. These waves will overlap and coexist for some time. The timing, shape and duration of these waves are a matter of some industry debate.

What is clear, however, is that the pace of advancement of 3D display technology has been mind-bending — and this should continue for some time. As technology analysts, this kind of activity really gets our gears turning. But as market analysts, we need to think like a consumer — and here, such rapid advancements may not be as welcome. With so many competing, overlapping and incompatible 3D solutions in the market, the consumer may well get confused, frustrated and disillusioned instead of excited about every new generation.

We have seen areas of rapid innovation before, but maybe not quite as fast as with 3D. Plus, there is no time in the ecosystem for any solution to become established before the next one is in the market. Again, this has happened before, but usually with some backward compatibility and stability in the ecosystem, which may be sorely lacking with 3D.

By Chris Chinnock, Display Daily