Toshiba's Glasses-Free 3D TV: Same Old Problems

This December, Toshiba will be one of the first companies to release a 3D TV without glasses, but don't get too excited yet.

The problems that plague glasses-free 3D in television sets -- limited viewing angles and high costs -- are alive and well in Toshiba's model. And they're not going away any time soon.

Toshiba's glasses-free 3D TV takes a similar approach to Nintendo's 3DS handheld, which launches next year. As with current 3D televisions, your left and right eyes receive slightly different images, but instead of being parsed by glasses, they arrive through a "lenticular sheet" of magnified lenses, sent out at multiple angles.

As you might expect, the viewer must sit in a specific area for the lenses to hit properly. In the case of Toshiba's glasses-free 3D TV, the recommended viewing angle is 40 degrees (20 degrees on each side), and a distance of three feet for the 20-inch model, and two feet for the 12-inch model. Generally, manufacturers can improve viewing angles by packing more lenses into the lenticular sheet -- Toshiba's TV has nine of them -- but I'm not sure how much higher they can go.

Price is also an obstacle, as it is with all 3D televisions. According to the BBC, Toshiba's glasses-free 3D television will cost roughly $1400 for the 12-inch model and $2800 for 20-inch model. Right now, you can get a 50-inch Samsung 3DTV from Best Buy, with two pairs of glasses, for $990. There's just no comparison.

There's also one other potential hurdle that glasses-free 3D TV faces, and it's a big one: 2D. In January, Engadget looked at a glasses-free display from Magnetic3D, and found t

hat the lenticular sheet makes 2D viewing "a messy blur." Unless the world decides that nightly news and cheesy sitcoms are better viewed in the third dimension, 2D will always be important. I'm not sure whether Toshiba's glasses-free 3D TVs are unable to accommodate 2D, but if they can't, they'd best be avoided. (Not that it matters; Toshiba's sets won't be available outside of Japan anyway.)

Perhaps these issues are why Samsung has scoffed at the idea of glasses-free 3D, and why Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute said LCD 3D TVs without glasses won't be commercially available on a global scale until 2015.

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