Toshiba Corp. today that it will be the first company to bring a glasses-free 3D TV to market. The launch is planned for late December, and in Japan only. Two initial models, the 20-inch 20GL1 and 12-inch 12GL1, will both be based on the parallax barrier approach found in the Nintendo 3DS. The approach requires that viewers sit in “sweet spots” but is more comfortable over long periods and cheaper for multiple viewers.
The 20-inch unit is the most interesting, sporting a half-HD 1280 by 720 pixel screen with a respectable 550:1 contrast, Cell chip Regza tech to give it the processing oomph to deliver the 3-D effect, HDMI-out, and Ethernet and USB port. The technology is powered via an optical trick that’s essentially similar to the way the Nintendo 3DS will work: The screen’s pixel array is topped by an extra optical sheet that’s covered with “perpendicular lenticular” arrays. This means a fine grid of tiny lenses direct the light emitting from each pixel to a particular point in front of the TV’s screen–if you’re sat in one of the nine sweet spots that result, you’ll see two different images in each eye, and your brain does the magical trick of making that image seem three dimensional.
Its two drawbacks, immediately evident from the press release are the fact that a 20-inch widescreen is only just about big enough for a small family TV in a market where TVs over 40 inches are common, and that the “suggested viewing distance” at which the 3D effect is optimal is just 90 cm. That’s 35.4 inches, just under three feet. Considering that you typically have two feet between your eyes and a typical laptop screen, this really isn’t very far–particularly when you imagine that several members of the family might like to watch the same movie. You know, to be social and all.
The 12-inch model drops the Cell processor, as its lower 466×350 resolution doesn’t require the same level of processing power to deliver the same effect. Optimal viewing is achieved from a minimum distance of 2.13 feet. It’s also equipped with LED backlighting and similar ports but can double as a photo frame, accepting SD cards loaded with JPEG images. The SD card can also play AVCHD files, and the TV can tune in 1Seg over-the-air TV when in Japan.
The concept of no-glasses 3D technology, which works by embedding thousands of tiny mirrors into the display to make it appear as though the images have real depth, is making a splash in other markets. For example, 3D digital cameras are beginning to use it in their LCD viewfinder screens, and digital photo frames can now display 3D images without the need for glasses. Additionally, Nintendo’s upcoming 3DS handheld system will bring the technology to the mainstream in the biggest way yet. However, the technology becomes more unwieldy and lower quality as the display size becomes bigger. That’s why most companies aren’t yet ready to deploy it to full-size TVs. Toshiba, however, is taking a risk. It’s also unknown how much content will be available since this TV will use a different standard than current glasses-required 3D TVs.
Toshiba acknowledges that picture quality had to be sacrificed somewhat compared to a conventional 3-D modelin order to be able to make the images viewable in 3-D without glasses. A Toshiba engineer said the color can be adjusted and it will likely be improved before the product goes on sale. But overall, the biggest hurdle that remains may be the one that has plagued the development of glasses-free 3-D for years. The image can get blurry with sudden head movement and the picture is not consistent once the viewer moves out of the optimal viewing area.
The 20-inch will retail for the equivalent of $2,900 and the 12-inch for $1,450. International pricing and availability has yet to be announced.