By Gordon Meyer
Not surprisingly, the latest generation of 3D technology was front and center at this year’s CES. And not just displays. Last year, Panasonic demonstrated a prototype of its first prosumer HD 3D video camera, which It officially launched at NAB. Later in the year, they started shipping a $1,000 consumer camera, which was really a hybrid of sorts that achieved its 3D effect with a special lens attachment to an otherwise 2D HD camcorder.
This year, both Sony and JVC showed prototypes of full HD 3D consumer camcorders which are expected to ship sometime this Spring for about $1,500 and $2,000 respectively (pricing of course will always be subject to change). These compact cameras are about the size of MiniDV cameras. Obviously the strategy to help drive 3D in the home is to give consumers the tools to create their own 3D content. But since the JVC and Sony cameras capture full HD images, they may be useful tools for supplemental 3D capture, depending on what format/codec they ultimately embrace (I was told this was still TBD by a Sony rep at the show.)
On the display side, LG and Vizio showed off the first generation of 3D TVs that work with RealD’s passive circular polarized glasses instead of the pricey active shutter technology more commonly used in home displays. Companies embracing the latter technology, including Xpand, which makes “universal” active shutter glasses, will tell you that their technology gives a superior experience because it retains a full HD image while the compromise for passive displays is that right and left images have to be interlaced, resulting in half HD resolution.
But based on the demonstrations I saw, although there is admittedly a noticeable difference in image quality, that difference becomes less and less noticeable the further away you sit from the display. And passive displays offer two very important benefits for consumers – the image quality tends to be brighter because the passive glasses don’t block out as much of the light; and the cost of the glasses themselves begins at a fraction of what the active glasses sell for. You can even use the same RealD glasses from your neighborhood Cineplex on your home passive display. This makes passive systems much more attractive for families or people who like to host Movie Night parties.
Last but certainly not least on the 3D front, was an early generation of glasses-free 3D TVs from Toshiba and LG. Both companies put a lenticular surface on their screens similar to the technology that’s been used for decades for things like 3D postcards and posters. It was interesting to note that both Toshiba and LG forced attendees to stand at least six feet away from their respective demo displays, presumably to maximize the optimal sweet spot for viewing. Of the two companies, LG had the better looking display (I observed a serious degradation in image quality on some of the Toshiba screens). But based on these brief and from-a-distance demonstrations, I’d say this technology is still not quite ready for prime time.
There will definitely be much more on the 3D front as the year progresses. Stay tuned.