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As mentioned on the previous article, 3DTV is being implemented by different technologies. According to some the approach causes unnecessary confusion, asserting that the various technologies may eliminate themselves if consumers decide they’d rather not spend on 3D when not knowing what to buy.

I see the choices of technologies as solutions to various issues and preferences people naturally have. A consumer may not adapt to a given technology but may adapt to another that offers the chance to enjoy 3DTV. Simultaneous technology offerings facilitate that scenario.

On a similar vein, look at the variety of HDTV display technologies offered in parallel over the past decade, such as DLP, LCD, LCD with LED, plasma, LCoS, OLED, and the left behind CRT. Their parallelism facilitated the best selection for the particular viewing environments and user requirements at different price ranges.

How does this apply to 3DTVs?

Health/technology Issues

LG Display at CES 2011Some viewers experience eye fatigue or discomfort produced by the 3D glasses, crosstalk (image overlapping), flicker (blinking effect), dizziness, nausea, and/or photosensitive seizures. Some issues are produced by poorly made 3D content. Other issues are produced by active-shutter glasses 3D technology. Some consumers “have to have” the full resolution per eye of active-shutter glasses technology and prefer to adapt to its issues. Some would not adapt to the issues and are forced to give up the full resolution solution.

Others noticed that passive polarized glasses eliminated the issues they had with active-shutter glasses and chose the passive technology because it was more important to them to solve the viewing issues, although admitting that the half-resolution 3D of passive LCD panels is a disadvantage they can live with. Others cannot stand seeing the line structure of half-resolution 3D images on passive LCD panels and would rather run the risk of occasionally experiencing some of the issues of active-shutter glasses.

LG Display at CES 2011Others cannot adapt to the issues of any of the 3D glasses technologies and prefer the no-glasses auto-stereoscopic 3D technology accepting its higher cost and viewing zones constraints. A darker image when viewed with 3D glasses for long periods may induce viewing strain that some people cannot tolerate, so they may have to buy a brighter LCD panel with local dimming even when they consider plasma to produce a better image.

Others would never trade the quality of a plasma panel when viewing 2D 90% of the time just for a brighter LCD to view 3D 10% of the time. LG Display claimed a number of issues that prompted their decision of halting their production of active-shutter glasses 3DTVs to instead manufacture 3DTV panels with pattern retarders and polarized glasses.

LG Display at CES 2011 - Discontinuing Active Shutter Glasses TechnologyViewing style/User Requirement Reasons

Some are reluctant to wear 3D glasses because of their need of 3D group-viewing or to avoid the feeling of isolation from other viewers and from the room, so auto-stereoscopic maybe their only option. Some need to view casually while moving around and do not want to remove/replace the glasses to been able to perform activities they currently do while viewing HDTV for which they do not need glasses. An older person does not want to risk an accident because the dark glasses can make the person unaware of a toy on the floor, for example.

The cost of group viewing at large gatherings at $150 per active-shutter glasses may be prohibitive compared to the cost of a large auto-stereoscopic panel that anyone can see without 3D glasses, or compared to the cost of a passive panel/front projector with polarized (low-cost) glasses, however, the additional cost of a silver screen for a passive projector solution could render that option unreasonable, not to mention having to have 2 screens, one for 3D, another one for 2D.

The risk of damaging or losing expensive active-shutter glasses during large gatherings or while being mishandled by children makes the extra cost of the auto-stereoscopic alternative a relatively better investment when no glasses are needed, and therefore never at risk. The lower cost of polarized glasses combined with a passive panel/projector maybe a better option for that case if the half-resolution of 3D would not be a quality concern for the occasional 3D viewing.

LG Display CES 2011 Supports Polarized GlassesHowever, that may not be an acceptable option for a videophile in pursuit of image quality, even for an occasional viewing of 3D. Another videophile wants to have the setup exclusively dedicated for 3D viewing, and the half-resolution of passive technology is not acceptable, neither auto-stereoscopic method may be considered until 4K/higher resolution panels would allow 1080p resolution per viewing zone/eye for all viewers. This means that the active-shutter glasses technology at full 1080p resolution per eye may be the most quality-appropriate option for that videophile at the present time. However, if the viewer has sensitivity issues with active-shutter glasses, the viewing of 3D at full resolution may not be possible today and some tradeoffs may have to be accepted.

In other words, having more than one technology increases the possibilities of adopting 3D rather than the opposite.

LD Display CES 2011 - Press Meeting Announcing Discontinuation of Active-Shutter 3D TechnologyAre you part of the 20% or the 80%?

Several sources claimed that 5 to 20% of viewers may have health issues with 3D. Some issues were actually identified as visual limitations of the person and were discovered as a consequence of their exposure to 3D, similarly to some visual conditions found on children that may not have been noticed otherwise.

The percentages above originate from various formal and informal sources and they seem to not only include those affected by the use of active-shutter glasses and other 3D technology factors, but also include people that experienced visual discomfort at the local theater using passive glasses, such as fatigue and headaches, when rapidly trying to adjust to excessive variations of positive and negative depth present in some poorly made 3D content during an extended period of time, and issue that would affect the viewing of that content using any 3DTV technology, whether is viewed with 3D glasses or not (auto-stereoscopic).

To address that issue 3DFusion has developed a proprietary “knob type” of depth control that allows the depth of any 3D content to be adjusted in real-time at any point in the creation/distribution process from the camera to the display device, including giving the viewer the power to adjust the 3D depth of the content to suit his/her comfort level and diminish the effect that may produce fatigue and visual discomfort.

Some negative publicity suggested that 3DTV should not move forward and manufacturers should not be pushing 3DTV, or should not make some type of 3DTVs (such as LG Display decided to do with active-shutter glasses technology, as mentioned above).

I recently attended the 3D@Home Consortium meeting at CES 2011. The Consortium reported that a dedicated group was assigned the task of evaluating the health issues of 3D. The group is headed by an industry professional judged by the Consortium as with ample experience in this subject.

On the other hand, considering the overwhelming success of some 3D movies at local theaters such as Avatar, the health concerns appear to affect a small fraction of the public. Even if the 20% estimate is confirmed by appropriate research, a manufacturer may see no reason to stop making a product that 80% of consumers can still use and the other 20% is not forced to buy, and if they do buy they still have a top-of-the-line TV set that is an excellent display device for 2D HDTV, and have the choice not to use the 3D feature (as often or ever; the consumer is always in control of his/her 3D factors of concern).

As with all products some consumers may have limitations regarding some of their features. Proper guidelines should be provided to warn/inform consumers of known issues before they open the box, which is what some companies have actually done with 3DTVs, although seemingly protecting themselves from possible legal ramifications.

Next article: Is 3DTV a Replacement of Digital Television? Would 2D Viewing be affected?

Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, March 9, 2011 7:05 AM

About Rodolfo La Maestra

Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc  magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines.  In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.

Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities.  Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers.  After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.

In parallel, from 1998 he helped the public with his other career of audio/video electronics, which started with hi-end audio in the early 60’s and merged with Home Theater video, multichannel audio
, HD, 3D and UHDTV. When HDTV started airing in November 1998, and later followed by 3DTV and 4K UHDTV, he realized that the technology as implemented would overwhelm consumers due to its complexity, and it certainly does even today, and launched his mission of educating and helping consumers understand the complexity, the challenge, and the beauty of the technology pursuing better sound and image, so the public learn to appreciate it not just as another television.