The Future of TV: 3D, WindowWalls, Visible Light Communication, and More

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Television has changed a lot over the years--from black-and-white tube sets to Technicolor consoles to plasma and LCD high-definition TVs.

But the medium is still evolving. Tech companies are producing bigger (yet thinner) TV screens and immersive, customizable viewing experiences with Internet connectivity, widgets, and apps; and broadcasters are looking at ways to move beyond high-definition.

We still have a long way to go before our home entertainment systems look like something out of Minority Report, but some of the new technologies are pretty impressive: 3D TV that approximates what you'd get in a movie theater, multiple monitors designed to present a wall-size picture, and ultra-definition resolution are just some of the innovations you can look forward to.

We spoke with representatives of Samsung, one of the leaders in the television industry, about what TVs of the future might have in store for consumers. Here's what they told us.

3D Television

When tech companies tried to make "3D TV" the catch-phrase of CES 2010, many reviewers were skeptical. What's the demand for 3D TV? How many people want to don a pair of expensive and dorky-looking glasses just to watch TV? Is there enough 3D content out there for 3D TV to be more than an expensive curiosity?

Scott Birnbaum, vice president of Samsung's LCD business, says that the demand for 3D TV will skyrocket in the next couple of years, fueled by televised sports. ESPN plans to broadcast this year's soccer World Cup (which is being held in South Africa) in 3D.

If you're unsure whether a 3D TV is a good investment, you may be reassured to learn that 3D TVs can handle 2D video just fine; also, Samsung's 3D TV can convert 2D content into "3D" content (that is, content with simulated depth, but not "real" 3D content). In addition, Samsung has formed a "global strategic partnership" with DreamWorks Animation, the studio that produced such 3D features as Monsters vs Aliens and How to Train Your Dragon, to make 3D television more feasible, with Samsung producing the hardware and DreamWorks producing the content.

Sony plans to introduce its 3D TVs in Japan on June 10, and will start selling 3D TVs worldwide at around the same time. Leaked reports indicate that LG Electronics will begin delivering full-array LED-backlit LCD 3D TVs in the near future. For its part, Panasonic has promised 3D Plasma TVs by this summer, and it launched one model in March at Best Buy.

Though a number of companies are launching 3D TVs this year, the industry faces quite a few unresolved issues. 3D shutter glasses, which usually come bundled with 3D Blu-ray disc players and 3D TVs, can be quite expensive on their own (around $100 for a low-end pair). In addition, some people may experience bad effects from watching 3D TV--the list includes teens, children, the elderly, pregnant women, sufferers of serious medical conditions, and individuals who are sleep-deprived or inebriated, according to Samsung's 3D TV Warning. And finally, 4 to 10 percent of the population can't even see 3D TV because they're unable to process stereoscopic imagery (optometrists say that the condition is treatable, however).

Samsung has produced a 3D display that lets you see the 3D effect without glasses, for the "Digital Out of Home" market (for example, for screens used on digital billboards and signage). The technology uses a lenticular lens to produce 3D effects that are visible without special glasses; initially advertisers will employ it to display ads in places like airports, as a novel way of catching the attention of passersby. Though this nonglasses technology is not as yet suited for home entertainment, it could be someday. And if 3D TV ever manages to ditch the glasses, it may really take off.

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